Being a Linguist

Moist, Word Aversion, and the Start of a New School Year

First of all, my apologies for being a day late. I am visiting family in Vermont for a few days, and spent most of yesterday eating and drinking delicious samples of cheese and beer 🙂

Lately I’ve been pondering word aversion, specifically my own dislike of the word “moist.” I think it came up in a conversation I recently had (plus there is a great episode of How I Met Your Mother that has a character repeating the word over and over, just to prove a point). The point is, I decided to search for reasons why people don’t like the sound of certain words. The article I found on Slate had some interesting points, but what it really got me thinking about was the first day of school.

Stick with me now, because I promise this makes sense in my head.

One of the people interviewed for this article, a linguistics professor at the University of Chicago, said he’d be interested in a methodical examination of this phenomenon, especially the hypothesis that people who are more aware of the arbitrary aspect of language (multi-linguals, linguists, writers) are less likely to have a problem with certain words.

What does this have to do with the first day of school?

In grad school I took several courses where final projects were discussed on the first day of class. Not in a “here is the syllabus, you have a final project due” kind of way, but in a “you should have a final paper topic in mind already and probably should be gathering data starting next week” kind of way.

So, for all my friends who are in that boat right now,  here is a paper topic for you: examine word aversion.

Maybe watch episodes of Inside the Actors Studio, where James Lipton asks all his guests what is their least favorite word, and then look for patterns? Or do a survey of multi-linguals to find out if they are, in fact, less word averse?

And if anyone knows of an existing paper on the subject I’d love to read it!

In the meantime, I will try to cultivate a non-judgemental attitude towards “moist” (because right now just typing that word makes me feel icky…).


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