What Is The Ugliest Word In The World?

Is it “moist”? Is it “pulchritude”? We’ll try to identify the ugliest word in the world, and probably fail. But it’ll be fun regardless.
woman grimacing at the ugliest word

If you asked a room full of Americans what they think the ugliest word in the world is, you’d probably get a variety of answers, and at least one of them would be “moist.” Beyond our strange obsession with how revolting the word “moist” is, determining the ugliest word is mostly a matter of personal preference.

So, that’s it? End of article? Not quite. While we’ll never all agree on which word we hate the most, there are some common reasons why we think certain words are more distasteful than others. Maybe these themes can help us narrow down the list in our search for the ugliest word in the world.

Ugliest Word: It’s All In The Meaning

Often, our like or dislike of words is based on positive or negative associations we make with them. For instance, when you think about names you really like, you may find yourself choosing names shared by people you admire or find attractive or kind. And you may hate certain names based on people you know who have that name.

People often find a word gross if its meaning is gross, or if it has gross connotations. Words like “mucus,” “panties,” “pus,” “vomit,” “phlegm” and “scab” all fall into this category because, while some of the words may also just sound weird, they are all associated with things we find yucky or taboo. 

Although it may seem like it belongs in the next section, “moist” fits here due to its association with body parts or bodily functions. Researchers at Oberlin College and Trinity University conducted a study to find out what it is about the word “moist” that makes people so squeamish. The study found that although most people thought they didn’t like how the word sounds, they actually didn’t like it because of its connotations. They didn’t have negative reactions to similar-sounding words like “foist” or “rejoiced,” and they found “moist” more disgusting when it was accompanied by words related to sex, or unrelated pleasant words (like “paradise”), than when it was accompanied by food words (like “cake”). The researchers also found that the more grossed out participants were by bodily fluids, the more grossed out they were by “moist.”

Mouth Sounds And Mouth-Feel

Another key factor of linguistic ugliness is how the words sound or feel when we say them. Perhaps it’s simply a combination of letters we’re not used to hearing or speaking — “phlegm” would fit here as well. Or maybe it’s the unpleasant mouth-feel of certain words (“mouth-feel” should also be a contender for ugliest word), like “ointment,” “crepuscular,” “pugilist” or “regurgitate.” Another wonderfully ugly-sounding word is “pulchritude,” which ironically means “beauty.”

Ugly Words In Other Languages

We’ve put forward plenty of options for the ugliest English world, but what about the ugliest words in other languages? It would be nearly impossible to cover every language in existence, so here are a few gems:

  • LíkþornIcelandic for “foot corn”
  • Streichholzschächtelchen  — German for “small box of matches”
  • Boñiga — Spanish for “dung”
  • Accueil — French for “welcome”
  • Sdrucciolevole — Italian for “slippery”
  • липкий (lipkiy) — Russian for “sticky”

Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder (check out our article on the most beautiful word in the world, or our guide to the cutest word in the world). Well, so is ugliness. You might find certain words ugly because of specific associations you make with them, or simply because they make you feel icky when you speak them aloud. The one thing nearly all of us can agree on: no one likes moist phlegm.

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