Warning: The word ‘moist’? appears 23 times in this column

Feb 27, 2019 at 10:37 am

I’m always amazed that people recoil from the word “moist.”

I understand why certain words cause aversions, because some of them just have that sound. You know, like “bulbous.” I hate that word.

But I never got that feeling about “moist.” That said, I have found in recent years that I avoid using it in my writing. That’s not easy when a large portion of the writing I do is specifically about food and food descriptions.

By definition, the word generally means: slightly wet; damp or humid; wet with tears or (speaking of a climate) rainy.

How do you describe the makeup of a great brownie? Do you call it “slightly wet”? That sounds terrible, not to mention inaccurate. Sure, you can often replace “moist” with “juicy” when talking about meat, but moist is a word for a reason.

The Urban Dictionary offers up that moist is a word that one can “add to an innocent sentence to make it sound dirty,” especially when used in conjunction with references to “panties” or anyone’s nether regions of the human body.

And so it is that food writers can’t get away with using the word “moist.”

Like, ever.

But I sometimes rebel. I recently used the word in a story I wrote for LEO, comparing Indi’s fried chicken with that of Chicken King in this sentence: “All was juicy … the thigh naturally being darker and more moist.” I swear it was just a coincidence that the word “thigh” appeared in that sentence.

I used it in a LEO food review as far back as 2008, writing about Jarfi’s Bistro’s focaccia bread as “firm on the top and bottom, yet moist and soft on the inside.” Dang, that sounded dirty too.

Look, there just aren’t many appropriate synonyms out there to replace moist. Damp? That doesn’t work for food, only for your socks or maybe your dish towel. Humid? No, the tender piece of brisket I ate last week was not humid, the summer weather in Louisville is (ditto muggy).

Rainy, soggy and watery all are no-gos, because they clearly overshoot what “moist” really is — soggy is something waterlogged and dripping, not something that is, well, only moist. Other words thesaurus.com laughably offered up include dank, clammy, dampish, oozy and irriguous, the latter of which I didn’t even bother to look up. For a phrase to replace moist, the site also offered “not dry.”

But you can see why these words just don’t get it done: “All was juicy … the thigh naturally being darker and more oozy.”


None of those so-called synonyms means precisely the same thing, or flows in the same way, as does moist, which brings me to the question, “Why?” Why do people hate this word so much? Is it because of the sound, or has it simply become fashionable to hate the word moist? Zeitgeist can be a powerful thing. And why don’t people hate the word zeitgeist?

Chefs don’t hate the word. I asked Griffin Paulin of Mirin, and he said, “I truly don’t get why moist gets to people,” adding he likes to instigate, even going so far as to use disgusting words such as “clammy.”

And Madeleine Dee of Fond agreed with me, saying, “The word has never bothered me, and as someone who both works with and writes about food, I struggle with finding a replacement for it.”

But the hatred of moist is real. Just Google it, and you’ll find a number of blogs and news sites reporting the word as one of the most hated in the English language.

Mark Liberman, director of the Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania, calls it “word aversion” and offers this clunky definition: “A feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase … simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant or even disgusting.”

I just don’t get why moist falls into this category, and I probably never will. But from now on when I’m writing about food, and I feel the word is appropriate in a description, I’m not going to wimp out, I’m going to type the word “moist” and move on with my life. I hope my readers will understand. Because I don’t care what you say, neither cornbread nor pork shank should ever be described as being “irriguous.”

From now on, I won’t back down from moist.

Moist, moist, moist.