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Disgust: Anatomy of a Word

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Disgust: Anatomy of a Word

The origins of the word date back to before the 17th Century, when the word “desgouster”, referred to a food’s bad taste. The word was never used in English before that time, not even by an author as prolific as William Shakespeare. In Great Britain, an aversion to something was referred to as “gorge rising”, which had the same meaning.

From the 1800s onwards the term “disgust” began to be used even for situations beyond food: events, situations, behaviours, as well as urban transformations. With the Industrial Revolution, the term began to be diffused with the spread of factories and fumes, a new kind of urban chaos.

In today’s lexicon, of course, “disgust” can be used in myriad contexts: politicians and journalists use it frequently, just as children might call a distasteful food “disgusting”. What hasn’t changed since the old French usage, is the emotional charge attached to the word. Disgust is an ancient reaction that continues to thrive and survive, ingrained in our brains, helping us to discern between personal rights and wrongs – saving, us, in some circumstances, from harm (both in the kitchen and on the street).

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