UPDATE: Oxford Dictionaries suspended its #OneWordMap most-hated words project today. An update to the blog post describing the feature stated: “We regret to inform users that due to severe misuse we have had to remove this feature from our website.”
It’s possible that the suspension stemmed from the apparent outpouring of anti-Islam sentiment in the submissions to the project. Some Twitter accounts posted screenshots purporting to show that Oxford Dictionaries had barred certain sensitive words, like “Islam,” from submission prior to the decision to take down the project.
However, the nature of the misuse was not specified in the site’s statement, and as of this update, Oxford Dictionaries had not responded to a request for more details about why the program was halted.
PREVIOUSLY: Do you hate the word “moist”? Well, congratulations: You’re in excellent company.
The word ― usually applied with varying degrees of ickiness to cake or to bodily orifices ― holds a legendary power of repulsion, and a new project by Oxford Dictionaries to compile people’s most hated English-language words is confirming this.
The #OneWordMap project aims to gather responses to one-word language questions, starting with the most fun one: What word do you hate the most?
As of this writing, the website counts over 14,000 submissions, broken down by country, and “moist” hovers at or near the top of the list in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.
Why moist? Science and journalism have struggled to explain why people hate this specific, relatively inoffensive word and come up with a number of theories: that the combination of phonemes, especially “oi,” sounds unpleasant, or that it’s associated with grimy bodily functions like sweating and... well, worse. One study, led by Dr. Paul Thibodeau, found that it’s more likely the latter ― if you hate “moist,” you probably don’t like hearing “phlegm” or “vomit” either, but “foist” won’t bother you terribly.
As to why “moist” has become more universally loathed? Well, maybe it’s just because we’ve all talked about how gross it is so much, speculated Thibodeau.
The #OneWordMap responses offer some more unsettling insights into the current linguistic climate than Oxford Dictionaries may have anticipated. In the U.K., “Islam” has received by far the most votes for most-hated word, and in the U.S. the religion appears second on the list. Other top picks: “Brexit,” and, in Ireland, “Islamophobia.”
In Japan, where only a few submissions have been tallied as of this writing, “consent” appears as one of the most-loathed words.
“There’s a chance we might see some submissions related to politics,” Oxford University Press’ Daniel Braddock told The Guardian in what might be considered a slight understatement.
Braddock did consider some other words that might enjoy mass hatred for reasons other than classic word aversion: “Our expectation is that they will be fueled by a multitude of reasons,” he said. “‘Cancer,’ for example, has affected most people in the world, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that make an appearance.”
According to Braddock, Oxford Dictionaries is hoping to gather at least 30,000 submissions, so there’s a long way to go before any final conclusions can be drawn. Will “moist” claim its crown, or will rising socioreligious tensions unseat it?
Whichever word comes out on top, the trends already appearing speak volumes about our modern global society ― what they have to say is as icky as “moist panties.” (We’re so sorry.)