Moist has a problem–it’s become the expression non grata. Hate groups have formed on Facebook. How I Met Your Mother even ran an episode about it. The problem is called word aversion. And you probably don’t have it. Most don’t, but it’s a social phenomenon and spreading.
Word aversion is not to be confused with verbal and written pet peeves. Most writers do have those. Verbal pet peeves are annoyances or moral outrage at the misuse, mispronunciation or misspelling of words. If you dislike the overuse of “like,” or feel a migraine emerging with a confuddled use of there, their, and they’re that’s just a pet peeve.
Word aversion is akin to a phobia in that it evokes a visceral response such as nausea or disgust. Linguists and writers are less prone due to the increased awareness of the word as a symbol, the arbitrariness of the association. We do tend to have favorite words, but not vomit-inducing words. [Interestingly, women are more prone to experiencing it.]
What are common words that cause this reaction?: moist, panties, fudge, ooze, pus, crud, crevice, slacks, ointment, navel, phlegm, and mucus. These words all have general meanings or slang associations with bodily functions, often sexual. But others are less clear the association: squab, cornucopia, brainchild, and meal. Yes, meal.
Slate had a great article on this topic a couple years back. In it they describe a study in which a hamburger was served on a plate that had the word “rat” printed on it. Some people avoided eating the parts of the burger that touched the letters of the word. Not liking rats is understandable, or at least not wanting to eat food that a rat has touched. But, avoiding the letters that arbitrarily represent the sounds of the word that itself arbitrarily represents the rat . . .
But for writers, maybe this isn’t all bad news. Who doesn’t want to create a visceral reaction in their reader in poetry or fiction? Knowing that certain words could create an aura of discomfort or disgust would be handy, to either use or avoid.
I do have a word that has disgusted me since middle school. I remember babysitting and cringing to my charges asking to play with–stickers. So, I’m guilty of being a head-case. And I love words. I studied linguistics. Stickers. Have you ever experienced a word aversion?