More on "moist"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Mon Aug 10 14:18:04 UTC 2009

On Aug 8, 2009, at 8:21 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:

> "Moist" offensive or unpleasant, though it occurs in TV and radio ads
> for various lotions and other skin-care products thousands of times a
> day, 24/7/365?
> Somebody must is done lost his mind!

we're now on the verge of simply re-doing the discussion from two
years ago (and similar discussions in other places):

1. some people report an aversion to "moist", either in the form:
       i find "moist" ugly, objectionable, or offensive.
or (very often) in the absolute form:
       "moist" is ugly, objectionable, or offensive.

2. others respond by saying either:
      i do not find "moist" ugly, objectionable, or offensive.
or (very often) by voicing an absolute rejection:
     "moist" is not ugly, objectionable, or offensive.

and go on to point out, as Wilson does here, that "moist" is frequent,
at least in certain contexts.  sometimes they go on further, as Wilson
does here, to label objectors as crazy, deluded, stridently feminist
(this last because some objectors label "moist" as offensive to
women), or whatever.

background: these exchanges are often framed in absolute terms, with
the assumption that the offense, if there is one, inheres in the
expression itself, not in a complex relation between the expression,
the speaker/writer, the hearer/reader, and the context of use.
(similar exchanges happen for many expressions.  "moist" is in some
ways a relatively simple case, since the intentions of the speaker/
writer play very little role in exchanges about its purported

but thinking about these matters in such absolute terms is just
relying on a kind of word magic.  the exchanges are really about the
judgments, opinions, associations, etc. of individuals -- which differ
from person to person.  you can point out to an objector that the
purportedly offensive item does not offend many people and occurs
frequently in some contexts, but you probably can't argue them out of
their gut reactions.  on the other hand, within a wide latitude, you
can tell the objectors not to berate people who use the item (as if
they were deliberately trying to offend them, or at least behaving

taking offense is a very complex matter; i've just barely scratched
the surface here.  (and there's a connection between attitudes towards
words like "moist" and attitudes towards usages in general.)

(semi-final note: yes, it's true that attitudes (of all sorts, not
just to "cringe words") tend to be transmitted from person to person.
but you can still ask what factors might have contributed to the first
objections and fostered the transmission of these objections.  that's
how the vowel of "moist", the semantics of the word, and the
association, in some people's minds, with the expression "moist
panties" come into the "moist" discussion.)

(final note, for now: all of these sub-topics, and more, have already
been hashed out here, on Language Log, and in the blog postings Ben
Zimmer cited, though there's a subtlety with "moist panties" that i
don't think has been ventilated, though i've exchanged considerable e-
mail with readers on the subject.  more in a while.)


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