American Culture

Moist around the world

No, not global moistening

It’s old news, as well as new old news, that moist is just not in vogue right now. We don’t like it. It’s a horrid word. There’s even science. Hell, there’s even history.

Apparently, moist gained in popular usage from 1823 until 1913. Why, I can’t imagine. There’s few things we refer to as moist. Cake. Maybe soil. Humid air. Maybe if you’re talking to someone who mostly eats from a can, turkey or chicken. But, generally speaking, I think we prefer our soil damp, our air humid, and our breasts juicy.

Etymologically speaking, moist stems from a French confusion between moldy and fresh. Must be a cheese thing. Since those danker days of the 1300’s, the French, ever the bastions of classiness in language, have moved on to some variation on humid, because that’s still a better descriptive option for things that go in a mouth.

Maybe it’s time we just pulled ourselves out of denial. This relationship with moistness is over. We’re just going through the motions when we stop and think, “yeah, but in spite of all the bad times, we’ve always got cake.” It’s time to move on.

Moist, you’re out. Done. It’s over. We’re just not that into you. You’re fired.

But who wants to eat cake alone? We need another word to keep us company during these moments of carnal pleasure, something as sweet, as satisfying as…oh, there should be a word for this, as…the cake’s something, something, that certain…je ne sais quoi.

Intrepid internet (up yours, capital I!) explorer that I am, I hunted the world over for a suitable replacement (thanks, Google Translate!), and I think I may well have found it. Now, whether its native usage applies best to breasts, dirt, air, or cake, I have no idea. I’m in an appropriating sort of mood, and willing to Anglicize whatever I touch at the moment. Anything to get moist off my mind.

But first, I’d like to point out that we’re not alone. The speakers of Cebuano, Frisian, and Luxembourgish all suffer from moistness as well. I suspect they didn’t get the 13th C. memo in Middle English that the early French were wrong. Humid is good and musty-based moistness just isn’t.  Since I’m looking for a suitable rebound word, I just can’t get into a relationship with another moist.

Now, there are plenty of other options from island regions over that-away.

basa-basa – Filipino
beueus – Sundanese
lembab – Indonesian, Javanese
lembap – Malay
mākū – Maori
nā hua – Hawaiian
noo – Hmong
sū – Samoan

How’s the cake? Hrm. Some nice words here, but I’m not feeling it.

How about:

drėgnas – Lithuanian
me lagështi – Albanian
mitrs – Latvian
nedves – Hungarian
niedja – Maltese
niiske – Estonian
vlažan – Bosnian, Croatian
vlažna – Slovenian
vlhký – Czech, Slovak
wilgotny – Polish

Well, how about that cake? I’m sort of liking niiske. Makes me think, “niiiiiice,” kind of drawn out like that. What else do we have?

nam – Uzbek
nemli – Turkish
nəmli – Azerbaijani
şil – Kurdish

Nemli? Maybe? I can see that, maybe. Makes me think yummy, internetized as nummy, somehow.

Okay, this Germanic/Nordic cluster of languages has some potential.

feucht – German
fugtig – Danish
fuktig – Norwegian, Swedish
vochtig – Dutch
kostea – Finnish
rakur – Icelandic

Is it just me, or are there some options here that just scream American shorthand for cake awesomeness (because nobody is going to exclaim like this over dry cake)? Maybe not in polite company. It’ll confuse some people and trigger others. Damn. So close.

The Basque have a unique take on it. Heze. I’ll leave that for them.

At last. Some competition for the Estonian option. The Welsh offer us llaith. In Irish or Scots Gaelic, tais would be the way to go. More hints of “niiiiice” going on here. But I have to say, Welsh, you disappoint me. I thought you’d at least have Highest Consonant to Vowel Ratio, but that distinction goes to Czech and Slovak with vlhký.

What else?

Well, one could hardly go wrong with romanticizing anything about cake. Usually.

húmedo – Spanish
humide – French
húmido – Galician
humidum – Latin
humit – Catalan
imid – Haitian Creole
umed – Romanian
umido – Italian
úmido – Portuguese
ùmitu – Corsican

Still not a fan of anything humid + mouth. Just nah.

What if we look to auxiliary or constructed languages?

Esperanto – malsekaj


I couldn’t find anything suitable in Klingon or Vulcan. Maybe something Elvish? Tempting though that may be, because who wouldn’t like something magical and wonderful associated with cake, well, their options put me more in mind of sicking up. How un-Elven.

Now, lest you think I saved the massive African continent for last, an afterthought, for shame. I saved the best for last, because there are two contenders there for the top spot to replace moist. And after all this work, all this hunting, maybe I’m ready to go wild and take on two instead of one.

fumile – Xhosa
klam – Afrikaans
le mongobo – Sesotho
lonyowa – Chichewa
m – Hausa
mando – Malagasy
nyorova – Shona
olumanzi – Zulu
ooh – Igbo
qoyan – Somali
tutu – Yoruba
unyevu – Swahili

Ooh. Mmmmm.

What could be more apt? Thanks, Igbo and Hausa! If we can just appropriate these two words to resolve our first world word-aversion problems, we can end a thousand years of moistness oppression.




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3 replies »

  1. Frank, as a student of linguistic etymology this post makes me slightly moist. I hope that’s not too much information.

    P.S Aren’t you supposed to be selling things on the internet or slopping the chickens and milking the hogs? Chop chop lad, those chores aren’t going to do themselves!

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