You probably won’t like this week’s column, which is not something I usually aim for, but this time it’s inevitable. For scientific proof as to why you won’t like it, read on.

Recently the Kraft Heinz Company placed a six-foot-tall jar of its Kraft mayonnaise (it was not filled with real mayo) in front of the Springfield, Massachusetts, headquarters of Merriam-Webster Inc.

“Why?” you ask. Well it’s because this particular product placement was part of Operation Moist, which is Kraft Heinz’s campaign to convince the venerable lexicographer to anoint “moist” its Word of the Year for 2023.

“Dear dictionary gatekeepers,” began the message on the jar’s back label, “here is a 2023-pound jar of Kraft Real Mayo, aka the Moist Maker, aka the Moistiest. For years, we’ve watched ‘moist’ be degraded by the internet – the media deeming it ‘universally’ hated. We won’t let this slander go on any longer! Our mayo is indisputable evidence that moist is a great word, and that every meal is better moist!”

All this hoopla regarding “moist” reminded me of two things. First of all, the term “moist maker” seems derivative of an episode of the television show “Friends.” Fans of the show will no doubt remember Ross Geller’s “moist maker” sandwich ingredient from its appearance in Season 5, Episode 9, “The One with Ross’s Sandwich.”

Second, it appears that “moist” may be the most hated word in America. Really. To find out why, let’s take a look at some of the reasons this particular word falls somewhere between disliked and detested on the scale of words we don’t care for.

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According to researchers from Oberlin College in Ohio and Trinity University in San Antonio, “around 20 percent of the population studied was averse to the word, but it didn’t have anything to do with the way it sounds. Rather, it’s the association with bodily functions that seems to turn people off whether they realize it or not.”

Most of the study’s participants who hated the word “chalked it up to phonics. ‘It just has an ugly sound that makes whatever you’re talking about sound gross’ one participant argued,” according to the study, even though they had no problem with similar sounding words such as “foist” and “rejoice.”

Interestingly, researchers found that people found “moist” to be most disgusting when it accompanied an unrelated positive word such as “paradise,” but thought that it was not at all objectionable when it was used to define food words such as “cake.”

Oberlin College researcher Paul Thibodeau says that another reason we love to hate “moist” is simply because we’re “socialized to believe the word is disgusting,” a process that’s known among linguists as “word aversion.”

According to linguistics professor Paul Liberman, word aversion is “a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong . . . but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant or even disgusting.”

Even though “moist” seems to be the undisputed leader of the disliked pack, there are lots of other words we also like to loath, according to researchers, such as: ointment, panties, curd, rural, dollop, slurp and pulp. But at least now we understand more about why we don’t like them.

By the way, detailed directions on how to assemble Ross Geller’s “moist maker” Thanksgiving sandwich can be found at tasteofhome.com.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at jlwitherell19@gmail.com.


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