Moist? Ugh. Mucus? Yuck. Words we hate.


Photo: Roo Reynolds, via Creative Commons, some copyright restrictions

There’s a great article today in about word aversions. Right near the top of most-hated words: moist, it even beats out vomit and puke, at least in polls of college students. I think you have to say it out loud to get the full aversion effect.

From the Slate article, a quote from Chicago University linguistics professor James Riggles:

“The [words] evoke nausea and disgust rather than, say, annoyance or moral outrage. And the disgust response is triggered because the word evokes a highly specific and somewhat unusual association with imagery or a scenario that people would typically find disgusting—but don’t typically associate with the word.” These aversions, Riggle adds, don’t seem to be elicited solely by specific letter combinations or word characteristics. “If we collected enough of [these words], it might be the case that the words that fall in this category have some properties in common,” he says. “But it’s not the case that words with those properties in common always fall in the category.”   

Some others high on the list of words people find repulsive: phlegm, puke, ointment, fudge, squab…

The one (sort of) word that comes to mind for me is “org”–the suffix on many URLs for non-profits, i.e., When I have to read this on the air, I always spell it out, o-r-g, rather than saying “org.” I abhor the sound of that syllable.

Okay, folks, here we go: what words do you find yucky? There doesn’t have to be a reason. This is a visceral response. There are words each of us finds unpleasant. Let’s start a list here. Let’s see if any word(s) rise to the top of the NCPR audience list as most hated. I’ll be sure not to use those on the air.

And while we’re talking about words, a neat video put together by Radiolab and NPR–even if you saw it a year or two ago in an earlier post I did, worth a second watch:


  1. Ellen Beberman says:

    Isthmus. Length. Depth. I hate words with “th” preceded or followed by a consonant. They jam up your mouth when you try to say them. And I am unable to pronounce the word thistle properly: I can only say “thithle”.

    • Ellen Rocco says:

      Ooh, yes, Ellen, the one that jams up my mouth (and I hate to say on the air) is prosthesis. Who invented such a tongue-torturing word?

  2. BRFVolpe says:

    Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s “Best Sketch Ever”. An exposition on the sounds of words:!

  3. Sunshine says:


    • Ellen Rocco says:

      Ah, Sunshine, there’s a whole raft of Yiddish-derived words that have a nasty sound to them: putz, schlemiel, yenta, etc etc

  4. Ellen Rocco says:

    Dale: flop-sweat? Geez. There’s a word I didn’t even know existed for me to hate…until now.

    • Flop sweat is what one emits on stage while in the process of bombing out, forgetting one’s lines, missing the romantic lead’s mouth, or neglecting to put on one’s pants.

  5. Sludge, bilge, squamous, gruel, fester, twitch, earwig, flop-sweat.

  6. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Squat. Even worse, squat-thrust.

  7. jill vaughan says:

    Garter. Nauseous. Phlegmatic. Herbaceous. Does anyone hear juxtaposition without a little pain? How is it a word?
    Mucus, yup. Cornucopia. Grosbeak.
    Agree with you on org.

    LOVE the word translucence.I have phrases and book titles that hit me differntly depending on my mood- Splendor in the Grass- so tacky- but then another time It’s an incredibly beautiful,layered and evocative phrase. Some of the book titles that were popular in my childhood still resonate- even if I never read the book. But I know, you’re talking about words we hate.

  8. chris cooper says:


    • knuckleheadedliberal says:

      Anything that deals in one way or another with bodily secretions is a pretty good bet for being a really gross word. Bladder, sphincter, Dale’s flop-sweat, mucus…is that because of the sound of the words or because of the connotation? The only exception I can think of is bee’s-wax. I make ear wax but somehow it doesn’t seem quite as wholesome as bee’s wax – even though it is totally organic.