This is probably the most hated word in the English language.

Image: Britney feels your pain. 

No matter how innocently you use it, there’s just something off about the word “moist”.

“This cake is so moist!” Squirm. “Your skin is looking all dewy and moist!” Shudder. “That rain last night made my garden so moist.” Dry retch.

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Sorry about that — this post probably should have come with a trigger warning. Proceed with caution, there’s going to be a lot of “moist”-ure ahead.

So how did one word — five little letters — incur the wrath of the entire English-speaking world (well, a good part of it anyway)? Is it the unavoidable sexual connotation? Is it the unsettling "oi" sound? Or is it because nobody can resist the urge to utter "moist" without making an appropriately creepy eyebrow gesture?

A team of researchers bravely volunteered to explore the aversion to That Word, and their findings are quite interesting.

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To start with, the /oi/ sound seemed to have little bearing on the reaction among 'moist-averse' people, who comprised 21 per cent of the 400 participants in the study. (Post continues after gallery.)

Similar-sounding words like "foist", "rejoiced" and "hoist" didn't seem to bother the majority of this group; and when the researchers asked the non-moist-averse group why they thought the word made other people uncomfortable, few mentioned its sound.

It seems context, and "semantic connotations", is the main determinant of how people react to moist. For example, the word caused the most aversion when it followed unrelated positive words like "paradise", or — surprise, surprise — words related to sex (like "fuck"). It caused less offence when it was preceded by unrelated negative words, or 'food primers'.

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The researchers note the related terms significantly altered the reader's interpretation of "moist", with the culinary terms giving it a more pleasant meaning than the sexual ones. So "moist cake" is off the hook, then.

Unsurprisingly, certain types of people were more likely to be grossed out by That Word, or certain words in general. For one thing, age plays a role — moist-averse people were more likely to be young.

In general, being averse to certain words was associated with neuroticism (neurotic, us?), while the report suggests 'blirtatious' people, i.e. those who talk fast and talk a lot, were less likely to be freaked out by words. And yes, blirtatious is a real word.

Just for kicks, I decided to ask around The Glow office to see if anyone had aversions to other words. It seems we're a highly neurotic bunch, because the answers came thick and fast: panties, smegma, slurp, cloaca, mucus plug, discharge, luscious, squirt, fruit, snatch, poo, fanny, crusty and even loin are apparently all on the 'no deal' list. Which only serves to prove this final observation.

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Where moist is concerned, much of it comes down to the ick factor. People in the moist-averse group were perturbed by words with similar meanings, including "damp" and "wet", and were more likely to be grossed out by bodily functions — but not sex specifically.

"It may not be the sexual connotation of these words that make them aversive, but a more general association to effluvia," the authors write.

So there you go. As an aside — how heinous is the word "effluvia"? I think that might even be worse than moist.

What words make you shudder? How do you feel about "moist"?

Here, please enjoy clicking through this gallery of moist delicious baked goods. 

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