Tips on Word Choice No. 24: Ruled by Intellect or Emotion?

"King Arthur and the Giant", Book I,...
“King Arthur and the Giant”, Book I, Canto VIII. Engraving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certain words/phrases can induce fairly specific responses in readers. As writers, we all know this, but do we use the power of emotion in our work?

For these few weeks, I’m looking at something subjective: how to choose between emotional and intellectual words for effect. You won’t always agree with me, of course; you’re writers. But, hopefully, my suggestions will get the thought processes going.

In this series I’m looking at the difference between words that seem intellectual as opposed to those that evoke a more emotional response. How you use them is obviously up to you. The point is that the alternatives have the same, or very similar, meanings, but their effect upon the reader can be markedly different. I’ve made some suggestions here, but I’m sure you can think of others.

Intellectual: Huge

Emotional: Giant

‘Huge variances in voter response ensure that predicting the outcome of the election is, at best, an exercise in clairvoyance.’

‘With the giant shifts in public opinion, there’s no way anyone can guess the outcome of the election.’

Intellectual: Notion

Emotional: Idea

‘The underlying problem stems from the public’s notion that they are better informed and more suited to judging the reality of the situation, which we in power know to be a fundamental flaw in their thinking.’

‘The very idea that the plebs have a clue about what’s really going on is just bollocks.’

Intellectual: Utilise

Emotional: Use

‘We will be able to utilise the ignorance and indifference of the electorate to impose our own will on the people, the way we always have.’

‘We can use the ignorance and stupidity of most voters to get our way, just like we always have.’

2 thoughts on “Tips on Word Choice No. 24: Ruled by Intellect or Emotion?

  1. I think this subject is very interesting! It may be due to cultural differences, but the only one I agree with on the emotional/intellectual categorizing is the last one (utilize/use). That difference really demonstrates the nuances in how our personal experience and culture influences our communication. Thanks for highlighting this subject!


    1. I suspect that, even within the same culture, there will always be differences of opinion on what counts as intellectual and what presents itself as emotional. Such differences in interpretation are inevitable. But, as long as the content makes writers think about their word choice, I’ll be happy.


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