Warning: You might be offended by some words in this post.
A while ago I read somewhere that there is a popular and growing aversion to certain words in stories. I did a spot of research and yes, there are articles, U-tube posts and yards of newspaper coverage about lists of words that cause negative reactions in readers.
There is one word in particular that seems to provoke extreme reactions. Apparently many people find the word moist makes their skin crawl. The word tops all the lists of words to hate. This saddened me as more evidence for the reduction in word choice in language. The word has been in use in English since the mid fourteenth century and I’d hate to see it taken out of the dictionary, but perhaps my opinion is in the minority.
As a person who spends most of their life reading words, writing words, playing with words and trying to find the perfect word to make my sentences do what I want, I find word hate a difficult concept. This is especially so when the word is one with a meaning that can’t quite be captured by anything else. In regards to poor old moist, I don’t think damp quite does the job, wet is too much, tacky isn’t right either. I can’t say ‘this sponge cake is deliciously clammy,’ or ‘I like to plant my seeds in soggy compost,’ nor can I say the ‘clay has to be humid and pliable’. All these instances need the word moist. What a pity people might be offended by the use of that word.
The argument is made that people find moist at its most offensive when it is used in a physical or sexual context. Some described the use of the word in such an association as disgusting. Is it possible that in this era the word moist is considered offensive because of an association with female sexual responses? There must surely be more reason than that. Why haven’t any cosmetic companies rebranded their face or body moisturizer as the slightly wetting products? Why can the words lubricant or lube be used without demands they are withdrawn from the lexicon?
For those writing about intense physical and loving encounters between people in their stories this word hate can cause problems. One ‘how to write it right’ article advises using the word slick instead of moist. That had me thinking of oil slicks and poor helpless sea birds with tarry feathers floundering on begrimed beaches. Not quite the image I’d want my reader to experience. Another jolly suggestion is to use the term ‘not dry’. I laughed at that one.
So, back to the list of words I might be able to use instead of disgusting my readers with a misplaced moist. I can’t use the mouthwatering word juicy because that is said to be almost as offensive. Another word that provokes a negative response is lush, a pity that’s on the no-no list, too.
What about mushy? Would that do the job? How about soused? Perhaps not.
Of course, not all authors accept certain words are off limits. Part of writing is making a choice of the words you select because they feel right in the context of the writing. Does anyone have any favorites they’d like to share?
I’m not very keen on unctuous. Are there any words that make you shudder? Let me know, I’d be interested to find out and if you’re looking for an alternative to the languishing moist—here is a list of the 247 alternatives you might want to browse. https://www.powerthesaurus.org/moist
Thanks for reading.