Word Aversion: What Words Gross You Out?

woman with a disgusted expression looking at a dictionary

A fellow blogger recently mentioned that moist is the most hated word in the English language and I felt the need to go exploring to learn more about gross words.

It turns out word aversion is the fancy way of referring to words that are just plain icky—not what the words are describing, but the words themselves. There isn’t a single feature that makes a word a good candidate for word aversion; it seems to be a mix of sound and association. Moist doesn’t necessarily have a yucky meaning; a moist cake would be a good thing. It sounds a lot like hoist or joist, but they’re not icky. Yet moist gives a lot of people the heebie-jeebies.

Moist isn’t the only aversive word, though. A post on Slate mentions ointment, squab, cornucopia, panties, navel, brainchild, crud, slacks, crevice, and fudge. We’ll skip over panties for the moment; aside from that, I can see crevice being yucky. The only person I ever heard talk about slacks was my grandma, so I think of it as a very old-fashioned term, kind of like she called a sofa a chesterfield. But apparently, slacks has stuck around, and the H&M website has a section for them.

Hubspot adds rural, dollop, slurp, and pulp. Slurp is icky. For me, pulp depends if it’s on its own (icky) or in combination, like pulp fiction or pulp mill (not icky). Dollop doesn’t bother me, and I’m surprised that rural would be an issue, although I guess the mouth-feel of the rur- is a bit weird.

These come from a New York Times article and the comments left on it: luggage, stroke, gelatinous, crotch, crack, curd, serosanguinous, orifice, membrane, and flesh. Somehow, orifice is much grosser than saying bodily opening. Gelatinous makes me think of those gross-looking aspic salads that were popular in the 1950s. Crotch is gross. Crack is bad if we’re talking butt crack. Curd is yucky. When I think flesh, the first thing that comes to mind is the Fleshlight, as in the sex toy.

And now back to panties. That’s hands down my vote for grossest word in the English language. Or if you want to get really bad, moist panties. It’s like it brings sex and little girlishness into one spectacularly gross word pair. Whether we’re talking about one panty, because lingerie store ladies sometimes use the singular form, or a whole underwear drawer full of panties, an article in The Atlantic assures me that I’m not alone in being grossed out. The author says the word panties is sexual, and “If you don’t agree, picture your father or grandfather. Now picture him saying ‘panties.’ I admire the woman who doesn’t shudder.” Oh, I’m shuddering.

So, my vote for word to be permanently removed from the English language is panties. What’s yours?

68 thoughts on “Word Aversion: What Words Gross You Out?”

  1. Hahaha what an utterly awesome post Ashley, this did make me laugh – superb stuff. Even the misdirects whether they were intentional or not 🙂

    This made me laugh out loud …. “And now back to panties. That’s hands down!!” Yep now strangely enough if you did that, you might have moist panties hahaha!!

      1. Hahaha – and now l am rolling on the floor!! Hahaha – if only l could record my hyena laughter at present that is how much l enjoyed that post of yours 🙂

        I don’t dislike any words .. l find some funny, like dozen – always makes me think it should be spelt duzzen 🙂

  2. I read through your great research (thank you) and all the comments. I don’t have a problem with any of these words. Even penis and vagina don’t bother me. I agree with Paula about the racial slurs. I hate hearing them, and I have trouble even saying them.

    My younger daughter hates the words “phlegm” and “mucus”. I don’t know if it’s the connotation or the actual words, but it makes discussing head/chest ailments difficult😂

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