Monday, November 4, 2013

Moist on Its Own Petard

Word aversion, the subject of much linguistic study, is a phobic reaction to the sound of certain words. The seemingly innocuous moist is one of the words that people find most unpleasant.  A survey at Mississippi State University found that moist was second only to vomit among detested words, ahead of such other nasties as phlegm, ooze, mucus, puke, scab, and pus. There is even a moist-hating Facebook page with nearly 8,000 “friends.”  

Reasons given for hating moist relate to words and ideas that it evokes.  Some people say it makes them think of “squishy” and “slimy.”  Others say it elicits thoughts of soiled underwear, sweaty palms, or other body parts dampened by various secretions.  Some say it conjures up unpalatable food. In urban slang moist can be a synonym for “embarrassing,” “unpleasant,” or “sexually aroused.”

This aversion might be explained by competing theories of the etymology of moist.  A fourteenth-century word meaning “slightly wet,” it derives from the Old French moiste, meaning “damp, wet, or soaked.”  One school says its Latin root is musteum, meaning “fresh, green, or new.”  But another linguistic camp thinks it stems from the Latin mucidus, which means “slimy, moldy, or musty.”

As for me, I am a great fan of moist—especially in a slice of rich, moist chocolate cake or in an ice-cold, straight-up dry martini with beads of lovely moisture condensing on the outside of the glass.

As for the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, he is all wet.

            Water, water, everywhere,
            It’s all I have to drink.
            A taste of plain vin-ordinaire
            Would put me in the pink.

            I wish I had a mug of beer—
            I hear the glasses clink,
            But my beverage is pure and clear,
            Straight from the kitchen sink.

            A shot of bourbon, scotch, or gin
            Would iron out every kink,
            I’ll even bet a Mickey Finn
            Would taste real good (wink, wink),

            There’s not a drop of Chardonnay
            Or cognac here to drink—           
            I wonder if ‘twould be okay
            If I tried a glass of ink?

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