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. There’s an exercise in acceptance and commitment therapy that involves repeating the word milk multiple times quickly until it loses its meaning and just becomes sounds. I find that icky, but I’m okay with milk on its own.

    1. Connotations are so interesting, especially with names. I used to really dislike the name Ron, until I started dating someone by that name, and my perception of it totally changed.

      1. I had a crazy, mad love affair with a gentleman named Ronald/Ron and I never uttered his name. He was an attorney, I called him “counselor”. He had every attribute that was on my no-no list, starting with his name, then his background, his profession, his looks but – he was courtly and charming and that’s what I needed at the time. But I never called him by his name…(https://youtu.be/m_qfujQ_jTQ)

            1. The people in that show were not caricatures, those people existed just as they were portrayed. I worked with those people, I even dated some of those people and trust me they weren’t funny, just annoying as all hell….

  1. Penis. It’s worse than vagina. Uterus is icky too. And tits. I don’t like that slang word…. there’s a bunch of slang I don’t like though. Swear words bother me too.

      1. Dem’ Brits are crazy! 😝 haha I watch British documentaries all the time – they’re the best. I’ll never understand their love for the word “tits.”

          1. That would sounds weird to me. It makes me think of spaghetti Bolognese. Makes sense that bollocks would be said in a British accent. Like knickers. 😂

    1. I disagree. Dick is much, much worse than penis. Penis is a bad word, but Dick is a person’s name… how the heck Richard translates to Dick beats me. It ruined the name Richard for me. I really hate how the word “dick” is slang for penis.

      1. What? Sorry I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had time to sift through the comments and reply to them. Ashley brought up the British slang which made me think – prior to that I didn’t really think about it. I gotta agree with her though, those Brits really have a thing for interesting terminology.

  2. None of these words bother me, nor do swear words. Only ethnic slurs make me recoil and feel negatively toward the speaker. If you think about them, they’re usually small and hard, like a closed fist. And I do feel a punch when I hear or see them.

    On another note, I wrote “c**t” yesterday, not because it bugs me but because so many people are offended by it. I try to keep my readers in mind…

  3. Ugh, word aversions… don’t even get me started! 😀 I’ve a lot of these. Just like I have a lot of words I absolutely love so that it almost borders on fetishism. 😀
    Sometimes I hate words because of their sound, or meaning, or because my synaesthetic associations feel icky (moist tastes and feels like rancid peanuts with waaaay too much salt on them and something super icky inside I don’t even know what it is), and I also have words that I simply find scary in a sensory way just like other kinds of sounds can sometimes be and I’m not even gonna mention them because I never do this, it’s too scary. 😀 I mean I do use these words in a language when I have to unless I’m really having a freaky day and even saying the word in a normal sentence makes me go nuts then I might try and say things differently if possible to avoid using these particular words, but I never say them like without a reason and have actually never shared with anybody what words they are because it’s like drawing too much attention to them, it just doesn’t feel right to do, it’s like asking for trouble. 😀 And on the other hand, many of these are actually everyday words that people use often many times a day and so I’m a bit self-conscious about it because it’s weird to be scared of such commonplace words, but I have always been. Sometimes it’s for a reason that I can understand, but usually they just sound evil and I wonder how all people don’t hate them. 😀
    My sleep paralysis “friend” whom I usually refer to as “Ian” when talking to people, actually has a name which is not a real name but a word, which not only is a Polish word (albeit not very popular these days anymore, thank God), but also a very frequently used English word and also a Welsh word. Like… why does the world have to be so cruel to me?! 😭 It’s also a short enough cluster of sounds that it even occurs somewhere in many other words in these languages. Out of “my” languages, only Swedish doesn’t have it at all.
    I actually quite like cornucopia. 😀 Not love or not even like a lot but there’s something interestingly quirky about it, just like I kinda like utopia. I also don’t mind serosanguinous at all. I see that a lot of people, natives and non-natives, have a bad relationship with luggage. The sound is weird, but my synaesthetic association with it is very chocolatey, quite similar to the taste of the word language, so for me luggage is okay.
    Panties are seriously gross! So are our Polish majtki (pronounced like MITE-key). I don’t like ointment, squab, dollop, crevice, fudge, slurp, crotch, crack (not just butt crack but that one is particularly gross), curd, either.
    Orifice is the next level of grossness entirely! I was once thinking why so many anatomy words are so gross, as if someone made them like this on purpose! 😀
    Pulp is strange ’cause I like the way it looks/is spelt (I like pul- words for some reason), but the sound is not quite so good.
    I also rather dislike flesh, but like flash and flush entirely because of synaesthesia.

  4. I’ve never really had an issue with moist. I think the one that gets me is “gruel”.
    This is a bit TMI (then again, have you seen this comment section), but once, I was reading an erotic fiction story for the purpose of…self-satisfaction, to put it delicately. Anyway, this story had all the elements I typically go for, but the author kept using the word “gruel” in ways that didn’t even really make sense with story or voice or anything and it just took me completely out of the zone.

  5. Johnzelle Anderson

    My wife’s least favorite word is “panties.” There are a number of terms that just piss me off, like when someone says, that’s a “one off” situation.

  6. There is are two words that make me shiver. Lately they have been on the news and even within my own city. Those two words are, “bed bugs”.
    I remember hearing a saying about bedtime, “good nite don’t let the bed bugs bite”. Now that I know what they are I would never tell that to a young child. That saying should be abolished! “bed bugs”. yuck, eeewwww!

  7. Arse. Don’t like it. Also, “milk bags” for breast. And “thrust” in sex scenes gets annoying. As to panties, yeah, it feels simpering. Thumbs down. I will continue to wear underwear.

    1. I’m okay with Arse in a British accent. North America accent and I can see the yuck factor. I haven’t heard milk bags before, but that’s really gross.

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