Some writers neglect the power of emotion when communicating their ideas, valuing logic more than others do, and assuming that everyone thinks like they do – that careful reasoning is enough to convince readers and make points. But even the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who was no enemy of reason, taught that stimulating emotion in your audience can be the key to persuading them. I’ve decided that communication, instead of simply inserting information into my reader’s head, is more like striking a tuning fork that resonates with the tuning fork in my reader’s head. Emotion resonates in a way that logic does not.
Here is a list of words that express powerful, positive emotions. They would fit well in a movie ad or a blurb on the back cover of a novel, two bastions of emotionally persuasive words.
- amazing – from a Proto-Germanic word “to confound or confuse” so if you were a Proto-German you might not want to be amazed. But amazing now has a positive connotation of delight and wonder, though it is often used lightly, even when you’re not paralyzed under a weight of marvelous singularity.
- appealing – from the Latin for “call,” something that is appealing calls to you or attracts you. A convict would appeal to a judge to reconsider his innocence.
- arresting – If you were a fugitive from the criminal justice system, you would avoid anything arresting, that stops you in your tracks. But sometimes it’s nice to be so overwhelmed by a thought or experience that you don’t even move.
- astonishing – Related to the modern word stun (as in “stun gun”) and to ancient words for “stupefy, crash, daze, bang.” One synonym is flabbergasting. I had a boss who liked to retort, “I am astonied,” as used in the King James Bible.
- astounding – Closely related to stun, it includes the meanings of dazzling and bewildering. An astounding experience goes beyond mere surprise.
- attractive – As you might expect, one synonym is magnetic – something that allures or draws you by its own intrinsic power. Often used to describe members of the opposite sex.
- awe-inspiring – Literally “breathing awe into.” The word awe once meant “overwhelming dread,” and this compound word preserves some of the dictionary connotation of majesty that awesome has lost.
- captivating – Originally it simply meant “making captive,” something that pirates might do to others that you wouldn’t want done to you. But like many words in this list, it now has pleasant connotations: being confronted by something so wonderful that you can’t stop thinking about it.
- compelling – When someone compels you, they force you to do something. When something is compelling, it forces you to consider it, as in a compelling argument that makes a lot of sense, or a compelling novel that makes you think.
- engaging – From root words for “pledge, promise, secure,” an engaging person or thing makes you want to involve yourself with it and commit yourself to it, similar to the way two people become engaged when they decide to get married. Used in business buzzwords such as “audience engagement” and “product engagement” which involve much less commitment than marriage, though the marketing department might hope it was different.
- enticing – Meaning “tempting, alluring,” its roots meant “torch, firebrand.” I suppose that being enticed is like being ignited. You can use the synonym inveigling, but few will know what you mean. You can use the archaic synonym illecebrous, but nobody will know what you mean.
- exhilarating – This word exhilarating has the connotation of “invigorating, refreshing, thrilling, exciting.” Unlike awesome, this word has become stronger, not weaker, since the days of Rome. It comes from the Latin roots for “ex-hilarity-ate-ing” so its origin is something like “gladdening,” maybe as in “That thoroughly hilarized me!” That is, it’s related to hilarious, which today means “very funny” but formerly meant “cheerful.”
- fascinating – Another happy word with sinister roots, coming from the Latin for “bewitch, enthrall, cast a spell upon.” It refers to something you find so interesting that you’re spellbound or trapped (in a good way).
- impressive – Yes, one of its roots is “to press.” An impressive experience makes an unforgettable impression on your mind, as the press at a government mint makes a powerful impression on metal blanks that turns them into coins.
- marvelous – A marvelous sight provokes almost uncontrollable wonder in those who see it. From the Latin for “worthy to be looked at.”
- memorable – Its Latin root originally meant “worthy of mention,” but it soon changed to “worthy of remembering,” as it means now. A synonym is remarkable, which means “worth noting.”
- mind-blowing – Alfred Hitchcock wondered if it involved compressed air. Common in the 1960s and used to describe the effect of hallucinogenic drugs, it carries the sense of an experience so intense or unusual that the human mind is overwhelmed by it.
- mind-boggling – First used in the early 1960s, it results in being overwhelmed, dumbfounded, or confused, usually mentally but also emotionally.
- overwhelming – If whelm means “to capsize, flood, or engulf,” then overwhelm is even stronger. The power of an overwhelming experience is more than you can handle.
- rapturous – It means “blissful, filled with extreme delight.” It comes from a Latin word for “snatched, carried off,” as one might feel during an ecstatic experience. A rapt listener is transported by and absorbed in what he or she is hearing.
- refreshing – Literally, “making fresh again,” revitalizing because of its newness. It comes from ancient European words for “fresh,” as you might expect. But these words also have the sense of “sweet, pure.”
- riveting – A rivet is a small metal fastener, so a listener would have trouble separating himself from a riveting conversation because it holds their attention so strongly.
- staggering – Meaning “reeling, tottering, bewildering.” A drunk man staggers as he walks. Having a truly staggering realization might make it hard to walk straight – it’s so amazing and astonishing that it affects the body.
- stunning – Saying a person has stunning beauty means that he or she is so attractive that it causes the viewer to lose strength. That’s usually an exaggeration, but the word does imply amazement and high quality. Related to astonishing.
- thrilling – Causing a sudden, intense excitement, even causing shaking or vibrating. Sword clashing against sword is thrilling in that sense.
- wondrous – This word is not for ordinary experiences. A wondrous sight is truly amazing, causing deep awe and marvel.
Though these words are all based on emotions, notice that they are also based on verbs – actions that stimulate emotions in my heart that change my behavior or attitude. For example, an amazing event amazes me. An appealing object appeals to me. They are intended to inspire action. You could use most of them as exclamations, putting an exclamation mark after them, though people might look at you oddly if you blurted out, “Oh rapturous!”
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Original post: 26 Feel-Good Words
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