Words Everyone Seems to Hate

words people hate
No, we’re not talking about “homework,” “responsibility” or anything else that implies you’ll have to make an enormous effort when you’d rather be doing something else. Instead, we’re talking about words that give you a feeling of real disgust. They’re perfectly ordinary, otherwise-innocuous-seeming words, but researchers have found when study participants are asked to rate words based on their gut-reaction, these words are consistently rated as being the most hated ones.

A Lot of People Hate the Word “Moist”

Paul Thibodeau, a psychology professor, authored a study based on the way 2,500 people reacted to words, and “moist” was generally considered to be downright nasty. It’s possible the reaction would have been different if he included it in a phrase like “moist chocolate cake,” but when viewed on its own, it was seen as being absolutely disgusting by 25 percent of the group.

Words using similar sounds didn’t get the thumbs down. People felt relatively neutral about “hoist,” for example. So, what’s the problem with “moist?”

Professor Thibodeau thinks it may be the association between “moist” and bodily functions. “Vomit” and “phlegm” were also rated as being among the most-hated, so he joined the dots and decided that words related to bodily fluids were the pits.

A Linguistics Professor and a Neurologist Blame Sounds

Professor Jason Riggle and Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, think that word aversion comes from the sounds themselves. Just as we feel odd after hearing a jarring sound in music, certain word-sounds are unpleasant to us. Dr. Eagleman has done his own experiments using made-up words and found that people didn’t like unusual sound combinations. So, if we think a word sounds funny, we’re more likely to associate it with something unpleasant.

Associations or Sounds: Who Is Right?

I’m going to sit on the fence with this one. Associations really can make a word disgusting. Take “vomit” for example. The very thought of vomiting is stomach-churning. The word itself is probably innocent enough, but the association is utterly gross!

At the same time, I can believe that sounds that don’t fit our ideas of harmony would also be jarring. Unlike Dr. Eagleman, I’ve never invented a truly disgusting word, and I wouldn’t know where to begin, but it makes sense in a way.

I’d say both reasons for being disgusted by words are valid. What do you think?

Is This Useful Knowledge?

Oddly enough, I think this knowledge could be useful, particularly in the marketing world. When we send out marketing messages, we need to be very careful in our word choices. We might even want to disgust our audience before offering them a calming, soothing message that explains how to solve a problem. Alternatively, we might want to avoid any negative associations whatsoever.

Still, just because of chocolate cake, I’m not altogether convinced about the gut-churning effects of the word “moist.” Couple it with cake, and suddenly, it sounds very, very yummy. Is it just me who thinks so? Of course, being covered with moist sweat sounds a whole lot less delicious, so I think we need to add context before we can talk about word aversion.

Made-up words are two-a-penny. Just look at company names and brand names, and you’re sure to find at least a few invented words. If we could know what sounds or combinations of sounds give people that “Eeeyew!” feeling of disgust, and which ones make them feel great, it could surely help companies with their branding strategies.

Is It OK to Hate Words?

I’ve read commentary about how silly it is to hate words, but whether it’s silly or not, it seems to be a real enough phenomenon. But to play devil’s advocate, we need negative words as much as we need positive ones. After all, if you want to describe something gross, having some unpleasant-sounding words or ones with less-than-charming associations, is mighty handy!

I use “vomit” quite often, “I went into the exam room, vomited out a whole lot of information, and scored an A!” The word “regurgitated” is interchangeable here, or you could use it to indicate your disgust, “He just regurgitated the same old information we always hear on that subject!”

Of course, some people react more strongly to word aversion than others do, and I put it down to sensitivity or possibly a very active imagination. Neither of these things is bad to have, although they might make your life a little more interesting than it needs to be.

What Words Do You Hate and Why?

First, a few ground-rules. We’ll just assume that anything obscene or scatological is gross, so those words are out of bounds. Some words are annoying, but that’s because of the way people use them and abuse them, so we’ll overlook them too. What we want, is a list of words that make you feel slightly queasy just looking at them.

Here’s my two cents’ worth:

  • Blog. I don’t know why I hate it so much. I think it’s the sound of the word. And looking around the web, I see that others agree with me.
  • Mucus. This seems to confirm the theory that bodily fluids disgust us. But somehow, even “snot” is better than “mucus,” so maybe it’s a combination of sound and association.
  • Pustule. Yuk! I can’t think of a good thing to say about this word. Nothing about it is nice!
  • Maggot. The word itself may not be to blame, but the associations are there!

To be honest, I don’t think there are any words that I hate in the truest sense of the word, but these would certainly top my list of the words I don’t like all that much.

Top Words People Hate

For those looking for a top list of words people hate, here are some words to consider:

  • Blog
  • Bulbous
  • Chunky
  • Clogged
  • Curd
  • Dripping
  • Fester
  • Fetus
  • Gurgle
  • Jowls
  • Lugubrious
  • Maggots
  • Moist
  • Mucus
  • Munch
  • Orifice
  • Panties
  • Phlegm
  • Pustule
  • Queasy
  • Roaches
  • Secrete
  • Slacks
  • Slurp
  • Smear
  • Squirt
  • Viscous
  • Vomit
  • Yolk

Are there words that you simply hate? Let us know in the comments.

  • That list of words made my stomach feel uneasy for an hour after reading it. I don’t know why some words make me cringe like that, but you definitely found a lot that make me feel that way.

  • The word that I hate sounds like chalk scraping across the chalkboard — actually! I cringe when I hear the word.

    • I have nothing wrong with the word “actually” but every time people talk about chalk/nails on chalk it makes me physically cringe and I can hear it for ages afterwards

      • I can *feel* the heebie-jeebies in my body for a good while afterward, whether or not I had a spine chill from it. (I’ve had two while typing this)

  • I’ve developed a dislike of “gulp”. I’ve just read a book in which a couple are getting hot and steamy, and the author says “she gulped his mouth” – eugh! Although I don’t mind it in the cartoon sense, in a thought bubble.

  • As a professional writer, I constantly and purposefully use words that evoke thought or emotion. The words in your list all seem to have strong associations with our physical being, which, of course, can generate emotions or help to describe a scene or setting. This is especially true for fiction when evoking the environment where the action is taking place. Non-fiction requires avoidance of such words. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how certain words are more effective depending on the format.

  • I abhor the words “bistro”, “tier” and the phrase “touch base”. I also have had it with made up corporate names like “Ceridian” or “Engility”.

  • I currently Despise the words Bespoke and Eponymous. Eponymous because I always have to look it up in the dictionary even though I looked it up the last time I saw it. Hate that word. Bespoke is just stupid. Sounds like people trying to appear haute and superior. Why not just say “custom-made”?

    • Haha- You have an excellent list- but I’d also add yummy. It’s a childish word to describe something that tastes good. Not a fan!

  • One word I loathe using (as of now onwards) is “Fantastic” (even when others use it too). I’d suggest everyone refrains from using it from now on.

  • Feet…. toes
    I absolutely HATE the word Feet

    Makes me cringe.

    And only when i pay attention anything that has the “k” sound in it because i know what the throat is doing to make that sound.

    And of course any New word generation y comes up with
    ( bae, turnt, lit, fleek, adulting, epic)

  • I can’t stand cutesy food related words like sip, nibble, snack, or munch (that’s how I found this, looking up “I hate the word munch”), but the top word I despise is “cozy”. For some reason that word enrages me. I think it’s something about words that are deliberately cutesy – “comfortable”, I’m fine with, it’s pretty straightforward. “Comfy” annoys me, but it’s just a shortening of the actual word. But “cozy” has added connotations of yuck.

  • ‘Ultimately’, when dropped in a sentence really gets my back up but I don’t know why!
    Oh and ‘romp’. Yuck.

  • I hate cutesy shortened variations on words:
    veggies for vegetables
    mac & cheese for macaroni & cheese
    sammy for sandwich
    I find that last one especially irritating because it makes no sense. There is no m in sandwich, so the cutesy variation should be sanny or sandy.
    I also hated the trend of calling McDonald’s Mickey D’s, but that seems to have stopped.
    It’s not a shortened version, but I could live a long and happy life without ever hearing kiddos again.
    Another particularly annoying trend is the turning of nouns into verbs. Adulting, for example.
    And then there is the devolving of the word awesome into an all-purpose adjective to describe anything that is the slightest bit positive.

  • Nosh, sip, munch, and combining any of these with “enjoy” in the same paragraph. I just hate other people eating.

  • The word Mrs (I have nothing wrong with the association or with marriage I just hate the way it sounds – Miss sounds way nicer than Ms or Mrs)

  • vestibule- i think it sounds pretentious
    encrusted- when talking about clothes eg encrusted with beads- ew it sounds infected

  • I absolutely despise the word MOIST-CREVICE if anyone uses that word… then stuff it up your arse then. A man who i once knew named Paggi used that word to me whilst talking about a foot fetish.xx

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