October 25, 2007

From cringe to offense

On the American Dialect Society mailing list this morning, Charlie Doyle observed that the aversion to the word moist -- which Mark Liberman has reported on here, here, and here -- has ratcheted up, at least at the University of Georgia:

A student in my Shakespeare class announced that the word "moist" (which I had uttered to describe Egypt in Antony & Cleopatra) is offensive to women. Some of the other women in the class concurred (not hostilely--just as a matter of information for a clueless male professor). I was somewhat flabbergasted, and nobody would articulate a reason for the offensiveness--except for one male student's eventual suggestion that the word reminds women of sexual arousal. That association is not at all beside-the-point of my description of Egypt in the play--but why would such a connotation make the word offensive per se? As far as I could ascertain, "damp" and "wet" don't carry whatever stigma attaches to "moist." What am I missing here?!

What started as a cringe by individual people (mostly women) at the word has now been elevated to a perception (at least by some women) that the word is offensive to women in general.

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at October 25, 2007 01:22 PM