Edit: Perhaps a list of words prone to mis-use would serve the need, here.

Is anyone aware of a resource that lists words with emotional baggage?

Example: I use the expression 'enormity of x' (as in, the enormity of time since the big bang.)

Someone mentioned to me that the word 'enormity' is associated with negative actions, like crimes. And indeed, Merriam Webster agrees. This is the first awareness I've had of that connotation.

Enormousness seems like an awkward alternative word. To many 's's' not crisp enough. Is 'immensity' laden with baggage?

Is there a resource of such words that may have pigeonholed usage? This is a hard question because every word has a flavor. I have to wonder if the sciences use 'enormity' in a neutral way and if that may be how I learned the word.

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    I think your premise might have a flaw here. "Enormity" is one of a number of words that sound deceptively close to something they do not mean. Properly speaking, "enormity" is never neutral, the negativity is by definition, not connotation. It is not a synonym for enormousness except by mistake. // There's another such deceptive pair that I inevitably stumble over. Or course I can't remember what it is, which means I'll probably use it wrong again.... :( Feb 21, 2018 at 3:49
  • @ChrisSunami I've changed it to immensity in every instance now, and will let other possibilities rattle around during the next drafts. Thanks.
    – SFWriter
    Feb 21, 2018 at 16:44
  • If your speaker is a pessimist or nihilist, maybe the big bang could be described with the word "enormity". :)
    – zr00
    Feb 22, 2018 at 22:30
  • This is a tough one to answer subjectively. Objectively it's clear, but e.g. so is the fact that most people use "nauseous" incorrectly to the extent that its incorrect usage has become so ubiquitous that you may as well re-define the word at this point to match typical modern usage. Enormity is another such misused word though arguably less so in frequency. The point stands that most people will understand what you meant even if it grates against those who know better. Personally I think your substitution with "immensity" was a good compromise between original word use and intent. Mar 26, 2019 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure that the issue with enormity is that it has emotional baggage. The issue is that it has restricted usage -- it is only use in certain constructions such as "enormity of the crime". This is not a matter of emotional baggage so much as simply an accident of the development of standard usage.

Other words with similarly restricted usage include: nether, bated, riddance, and petard. There is a list of some such words in the Wikipedia entry on Fossil words: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_word. These fossil words are perhaps a more restricted case than "enormity" since most of them occur only in a single idiom. But I think the same general idea applies: they are words that continue to be used only in restricted cases and limited constructions.

As for emotional baggage, many words can have emotional baggage, but mostly it depends on the context in which they are used. There are, of course, some trigger words that set off an instant response no matter how they are used. Some of these are durable. Some lose their trigger status after the events they are associated with fade from consciousness. If you Google for "trigger words" you will find lots of lists, though they seem to focus on the ones to use rather than the ones to avoid.

In any case, while individual words can have emotional overtones, to really evoke emotions you need to tell a story. This can be a very brief story, using only a few words, but it is stories, not words, that pack real emotional punch. Indeed, to the extent that words have emotional overtones it is because they trigger a memory of stories.

The other thing about using a story to evoke emotion rather than a word is that a story is a much more accurate instrument for the job. The emotional overtones of words can be all over the map, because they can suggest different stories to different people. By telling a story, you control which story the reader receives and therefore control the emotional response much more.

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    Thanks for the tip about restricted usage. Good to learn.
    – SFWriter
    Feb 21, 2018 at 6:18
  • Also thank you for 'nether' it is an excellent example and reminds me of a conversation with a dutchman some months back.
    – SFWriter
    Feb 21, 2018 at 16:46
  • Interested to see "neap" as in "neap tide" listed amongst the fossils - having grown up on an island with sailors for family, I can attest that neap and spring tides are current usage. Feb 27, 2018 at 16:37

Many, if not all, words can have emotional baggage.

Words can have many different, and sometimes opposite connotations, and different situtations, places, countries, etc. can give different connotations to the same words.

Colours are the simplest example. Red can mean 'passion', 'danger', 'love', 'blood', and 'special'. White is used for weddings in some cultures; for funerals in others.

Words don't 'pigeonholded usage'; they have culturally defined meanings. These meanings are, in post-modernist parlance, infinitely deferred.


As a practical matter google's "define: [word]" will usually give you a sense of the emotional baggage heavy enough to affect the meanings.

Not sure of an easy way to check if the connotations match without having a beta reader point it out or looking it up, though, sorry. You could limit your writing to words with connotations you feel rock solid about (the highlight of Munroe's Thing Explainer is certainly its limited vocabulary) and many people do prefer lucid over complex prose anyway, but that can be less fun ;)

(To me time is more 2D than 3D, so I'd say something like "extensive time" (or interminable to be more humorous) instead of immensity or enormity. Enormous doesn't have the same bad connotations as enormity which may be why enormity escaped your notice)

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