Do the two words in the title of this post make your skin crawl? Your gorge rise? Then, Gentle Reader, I suggest you watch some cat videos, because today we are in fact going to talk about moist slacks, two of the most loathed words in the English language, according to various unscientific polls.
Please understand that I’m simply reporting the news from U.S. jeansmaker Wrangler, which recently announced the launch of Denim Spa, a line of slacks – OK, denim slacks, aka jeans – infused with moisturizing ingredients “to protect your legs from the dehydrating effects of denim.” Denim dehydrates? News to me.
(Tangentially, I’m sad they didn’t call it “Denim Oasis.” I was all set with jokes about palms and dates and the toes of camels.)
Wrangler, which has been around since 1947, has traditionally catered to rodeo cowboys, but we’re not talking Brokeback Mountain and chapped chappies here. Denim Spa is a women-only brand, and it will be sold (at first, anyway) only in the U.K. The line’s official spokesmodel is Lizzie Jagger*, daughter of Mick. “They’re definitely cooler than regular jeans,” coos Ms. Jagger in a promotional video.
Wrangler Denim Spa “Molly” skinny jeans with olive extract. Available January 28 from online retailer Asos for $149.51.
The moisture lasts for 15 days, after which the wearer can replenish it with a “reload spray.” One of the formulas, Smooth Legs, is supposed to fight cellulite, which is a marketing word that means “bumpy fat.”
(Sodden afterthought: What if fashion brand Superdry started selling moisturizing jeans? Would they be labeled Supermoist?)
Setting aside the desirability of jeans that require regular lube jobs, let’s tackle the big question: What is it that people detest about moist and slacks and other “least favorite words” like vomit, panties, goiter, and ointment? In “Words We Love to Hate,” published on the Visual Thesaurus, Ben Zimmer speculated:
It’s difficult to find any unifying thread for these words that get people’s goat. But much like the enjoyable words on the “favorites” list like serendipity and mellifluous, there's a certain sound/sense combination that sparks these word aversions. Why does moist merit a Facebook group of haters, while hoist and joist go unnnoticed? It’s more than just the sound of the word: the disliked words tend to have some basic level of ickiness.
Maybe it’s the vowel sound, Zimmer suggests:
Ointment and goiter share the “oi” sound with moist: there must be something about that diphthong that gets under people's skin.
Still, context counts. For some reason, we may give a pass to moist if it modifies cake, as in the Duncan Hines tagline:
“So moist. So delicious. And so much more.”
And skin-care companies haven’t perceived a need to replace “moisturizer” with a less icky word, as many pages of Google hits attest.
Likewise, the guys at the construction site near my house seemed unperturbed by the Moistop signs stapled all over the building frame.
I read first the name as “moist top,” then enjoyed thinking of it as “Moi? Stop?” I finally parsed it the way I suppose it’s intended: as a blend of moist and stop.
* Or Lizzy, as her signature spells it.
(Hat tip to Diane Fischler for the Denim Spa story.)