It’s pretty hard to drop “moist” in casual conversation without getting a few involuntarily disgusted faces in return. But why is it that even thinking about the word makes people feel all squeamish and weird?
Well, thanks to science, we now have an answer. According to a new study published in the journal PLOS One, it’s more about the word’s connotation, rather than the actual sound of the syllables.
Researchers at Oberlin College asked 2,400 participants to rate a bunch of words according to how negative and aversive the words appeared to them.
First, they found that the guttural dislike of the word “moist” is a real thing—it seriously grossed out 18 percent of participants.
Secondly, they discovered that how you feel about it depends on who you are and your overall attitude. Young, neurotic, well-educated women who aren’t down with talking about bodily functions like farts are most likely to have a gag-like reaction to the word, according to the researchers.
People who are grossed out by bodily functions are also more likely to despise words like “phlegm” and “vomit,” suggesting our collective distaste comes from the category, not the phonetics. So the next time you bake a batch of ooey-gooey brownies, think of a better way to describe them, k?