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 terms, 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. 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 along 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?