What Is Logomisia (Word Aversion)?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

logomisia (word aversion)
"Mimi hated a lot of words," writes Eric McKean in The Secret Lives of Dresses (2011). "She didn't like the word moist, even when it was about cake; a Duncan Hines commercial could make her gag.". (Diana Haronis/Getty Images)

In language studies, logomisia is an informal term for a strong dislike for a particular word (or type of word) based on its sound, meaning, usage, or associations. Also known as word aversion or verbal virus.

In a post on Language Log, linguistics professor Mark Liberman defines the concept of word aversion as "a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong, nor because it’s felt to be over-used or redundant or trendy or non-standard, but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant or even disgusting." 


"A Web site called Visual Thesaurus asked its readers to rate how much they like or dislike certain words. And the second-most-hated word was moist. (A friend once said that she dislikes cake mixes that are advertised as being 'extra-moist' because that basically means 'super-dank.') Oh, and the most-hated word of all was hate. So a lot of people hate hate."
(Bart King, The Big Book of Gross Stuff. Gibbs Smith, 2010)
"My mother. She hates balloons and the word moist. She considers it pornographic."
(Ellen Muth as George Lass in Dead Like Me, 2002)


"My own word aversion is longstanding, and several decades from the first time I heard it I still pull back, like the flanges of a freshly opened oyster. It is the verb to drool, when applied to written prose, and especially to anything I myself have written. Very nice people have told me, for a long time now, that some things they have read of mine, in books or magazines, have made them drool. . . .
"I . . . should be grateful, and even humble, that I have reminded people of what fun it is, vicariously or not, to eat/live. Instead I am revolted. I see a slavering slobbering maw. It dribbles helplessly, in a Pavlovian response. It drools."
(M.F.K. Fisher, "As the Lingo Languishes." The State of the Language, ed. by Leonard Michaels and Christopher B. Ricks. University of California Press, 1979)


"Adriana recovered first. 'Panties is a vile word,' she said. She frowned and emptied the caipirinha pitcher into her glass. . . .
"'I'm just pointing out its relative grossness. All women hate the word. Panties. Just say it—panties. It makes my skin crawl.'"
(Lauren Weisberger, Chasing Harry Winston. Downtown Press, 2008)
"He used the eraser end of a pencil to pick up a pair of women's underwear (technically, they were panties—stringy, lacy, red—but I know women get creeped out by that word—just Google hate the word panties)."
(Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl. Crown, 2012)


"There are people who dislike the sound of certain words—they would enjoy eating cheese if it had a different name, but so long as it is called cheese, they will have none of it."
(Samuel Engle Burr, An Introduction to College. Burgess, 1949)


"Suck was a queer word. The fellow called Simon Moonan that name because Simon Moonan used to tie the prefect's false sleeves behind his back and the prefect used to let on to be angry. But the sound was ugly. Once he had washed his hands in the lavatory of the Wicklow Hotel and his father pulled the stopper up by the chain after and the dirty water went down through the hole in the basin. And when it had all gone down slowly the hole in the basin had made a sound like that: suck. Only louder."
(James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916)

The Disgust Response

"Jason Riggle, a professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Chicago, says word aversions are similar to phobias. 'If there is a single central hallmark to this, it’s probably that it’s a more visceral response,' he says. 'The [words] evoke nausea and disgust rather than, say, annoyance or moral outrage. And the disgust response is triggered because the word evokes a highly specific and somewhat unusual association with imagery or a scenario that people would typically find disgusting—but don’t typically associate with the word.' These aversions, Riggle adds, don’t seem to be elicited solely by specific letter combinations or word characteristics. 'If we collected enough of [these words], it might be the case that the words that fall in this category have some properties in common,' he says. 'But it’s not the case that words with those properties in common always fall in the category.'"
(Matthew J.X. Malady, "Why Do We Hate Certain Words?" Slate, April 1, 2013)

The Lighter Side of Logomisia

"Our theme this time was an Ugliest Word Contest: everyone had to show up with a sign around their neck on which would be written the ugliest word they could think of. All the linguists present would later judge the best entry. . . .
"On the sofa were PUS and EXPECTORATE. On the floor, sitting cross-legged in a half circle in front of the stone fireplace, and all balancing paper plates heaped high with nachos, hummous, and guacamole, I spotted RECTUM, PALPITATE, and PLACENTA (as one of the linguists, I knew that placenta would be eliminated quickly from the running: while it brought to mind an ugly image, its phonetic realization was actually rather lovely). In a fantastic coincidence, SMEGMA . . . was cuddling up to SCROTUM against the pantry doors in the kitchen. . . .
"As I walked around, I realized that a lot of these words would make great band names: e.g., FECAL MATTER (phrase: disqualify), LIPOSUCTION, EXOSKELETON."
(Jala Pfaff, Seducing the Rabbi. Blue Flax Press, 2006)

Pronunciation: low-go-ME-zha