Yesterday on ADS-L, Charlie Doyle passed on a piece from the Monday Huffington Post on, omigod, the hated word moist; the HuffPo writer professed to be nauseated by the word (title: “Hate Moist? You’re Not Alone”) and went on to consider alternative expressions that would avoid the offensive moist. The ADS-Lers went over this years ago, starting with reactions much like Jon Lighter’s yesterday:
Truly incredible. Rationally inexplicable.
It “nauseates” them, even when applied to cakes!
Makes me want to use it more. And eat more cake.
I got back on the bandwagon:
Yes, it makes me want to stand up in a crowded theater and shout, “MOIST MOIST MOIST”.
And then Amy West took things in a new direction:
Me three. If you guys are coming to Boston for LSA/ADS in Jan. we can do this. While holding cake.
Ah, a convention event! I could totally get into that.
Alas, this time I’m not doing the Linguistic Society of America / American Dialect Society / American Name Society / Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas / etc. meetings (I’m listing here only those organizations I’m actually a member of), for an assortment of health reasons. But a truly silly event would be entertaining. And then there will be cake!
Before I go on, a warning: the moist topic has been covered from almost every conceivable angle (I’ll list ten Language Log discussions below, and there’s some huge number on other linguablogs and in the press), and it’s unlikely that new insights will turn up, so I won’t be entertaining comments that are rehashings of this material. I realize that you personally have probably not had a chance to express your opinions and ideas on the matter in a linguablog, but linguablogs (like this one) don’t exist to allow everyone in the world a chance to get their word in; if things tend in that direction, I’ll close comments, as I have for my (now very rare) postings on Language Log.
I will be especially unwelcoming to two sorts of comments:
(1) bald assertions that moist (in any of its uses) is disgusting, nauseating, etc. because it is obviously offensive to women (parallels are sometimes drawn to nigger and other slurs with respect to the groups they slur);
(2) bald assertions (along the lines of Jon Lighter’s above) that people who make the claim in (1) are obviously irrational nutcases.
There is an interesting topic here, having to do with the source of attitudes like the one in (1) and with their spread in social groups. The larger topic is that of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and the spread of moral panics, but with the wrinkle (in the moist case) that we can speculate usefully on the germ of the contaminated usage in question — though why word rage and word aversion should have spread so virulently from statistically infrequent collocations like moist panties and her moist taint (both discussed on Language Log) remains a puzzle for sociologists, social psychologists, and sociolinguists. (No, referring to “humorless feminists always looking for offense” and the like is not at all helpful.)
The Language Log inventory (with a few especially valuable items asterisked):
*ML, 8/10/07: Ask Language Log: The moist panties phenomenon (link)
ML, 8/20/07: “Don’t say ‘tin’ to Rebecca, you know how it upsets her” (link)
*ML, 10/6/07: The long moist tail (link)
ML, 9/10/07: Morning mailbag (link)
*AZ, 10/25/07: From cringe to offense (link)
ML, 8/27/08: Moist aversion: the cartoon version (link)
BZ, 5/19/09: Word aversion and attraction in the news (link)
BZ, 8/8/09: The “moist” chronicles, continued (link)
ML, 7/23/10: Six words (link)
ML, 7/1/11: Hated words (link): an xkcd cartoon with her moist taint
Note that there are similar discussions on other linguablogs, plus (on sites without scholarly pretensions) giant piles of unfiltered, raw personal reaction.
The HuffPo writer offered these alternatives to moist in characterizing the texture of cakes:
not dry, hydrated, good crumb, spongy, divine
Not an encouraging list. On ADS-L David Daniel attacked spongy specifically:
What bugged me about the Huff Post article … was not only the stupidity of the “moist” issue, but also that it is supposed to be a food column by food writers and they think moist is the same as spongy. Totally not. Hmph.
And spongy was maybe the best of the lot.