a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction
a rough and bitter manner
an acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety
deviation from the normal or common order or form or rule
a remedy that stops or controls the effects of a poison
radically new or original
relating to an elaborately ornamented style of art and music
not counterfeit or copied
work of little or no value done merely to look busy
being of the property-owning class
a swaggering show of courage
a thick and heavy shoe
marked by rude or peremptory shortness
of or relating to or characteristic of the Byzantine Empire or the ancient city of Byzantium
loud confusing disagreeable sounds
the quality of affording easy familiarity and sociability
determined by chance or impulse rather than by necessity
complete freedom or authority to act
capable of destroying or eating away by chemical action
personal attractiveness that enables you to influence others
the experience of thinking a new situation already occurred
a classification into two opposed parts or subclasses
an amateur engaging in an activity without serious intention
in disarray; extremely disorderly
enthusiastic and assured vigor and liveliness
the feeling of being bored by something tedious
a standard or typical example
steadiness of mind under stress
be deliberately ambiguous or unclear
understandable only by an enlightened inner circle
an inoffensive expression substituted for an offensive one
an irreversible accomplishment
giving careful attention to detail
a socially awkward or tactless act
a complete failure or collapse
achieve something by means of trickery or devious methods
a slip-up that (according to Sigmund Freud) results from the operation of unconscious wishes or conflicts and can reveal unconscious processes in normal healthy individuals
artfully persuasive in speech
temperamentally seeking and enjoying the company of others
something indicating the approach of something or someone
someone motivated by desires for sensual pleasures
a belief that rejects the orthodox tenets of a religion
peculiar to the individual
charmingly simple and serene
slightly indecent, offensive, or improper
working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way
dessert made of sweetened milk coagulated with rennet
excessively garish or sentimental art
any long and tedious address or recital
glaringly vivid and graphic; marked by sensationalism
of or relating to amoral or conniving political principles
a general feeling of discomfort, uneasiness, or depression
avoid responsibilities and duties
literally a `sacred utterance' in Vedism
effusively or insincerely emotional
a person hired to fight for another country than their own
a conservative advocating only minor reforms in government
an incorrect or unsuitable name
someone who is excessively self-centered
the beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation
a reply that has no relevance to what preceded it
characteristic of someone who has risen economically or socially but lacks the social skills appropriate for this new position
the state of being disregarded or forgotten
look at with amorous intentions
intended to attract notice and impress others
expel from a community or group
hypothetical remedy for all ills or diseases
a statement that contradicts itself
easily irritated or annoyed
hasty and without attention to detail; not thorough
a person who is uninterested in intellectual pursuits
characterized by exceptionally early development
something for something
representing the perfect example of a class or quality
diversion intended to distract attention from the main issue
take delight in
study of the technique for using language effectively
having brief brilliant points or flashes of light
unsparing and uncompromising in discipline or judgment
a symbol of disgrace or infamy
seeming unaffected by pleasure or pain; impassive
having a sophisticated charm
someone (usually maleficent) who tries to persuade or force another person to do his bidding
a person who tries to please someone to gain an advantage
a total abstainer
a private conversation between two people
a speech of violent denunciation
a secret rendezvous, especially between lovers
being present everywhere at once
not returned in kind
incapable of being defended or justified
experienced at secondhand
a long flag; often tapering
a valuable possession whose upkeep is excessively expensive
marked by active interest and enthusiasm
Ever noticed how some writers have an uncanny ability to toy with your emotions?
Within the span of a few pages, you can go from shaking with excitement to bawling your eyes out to flying into a rage and throwing the book across the room. It’s the hallmark of great writing, proof of mastery of the craft, and the yardstick by which aspiring writers measure their work.
And it goes beyond storytelling.
Sure, taking the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride is essential in novels and short stories, but what about emails, resumes, blog posts, proposals? They’re all designed to influence the reader in some way. You want to pass along information, yes, but you also want the reader to feel a certain way about that information.
Maybe you want to impress them, get them excited, make them cautious, get them angry, encourage them to keep going, or any number of emotions. The better a job you do at making them feel, the more influential you are, and the better your chances of getting what you want.
So, you might wonder… how?
The world is full of people who can scribble down their ideas, but to bring those ideas to life, to make them take up residence in the mind of the reader, lurking in the background, tugging, pulling, and cajoling their emotions until they think and feel exactly as you want? That’s a rare skill indeed.
The good news is it can be yours. There’s even a shortcut.
How to Instantly Become a Better Writer
Use power words.
Rather than describe what I mean, let’s deconstruct an example from the great Winston Churchill:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Well, there was a lot on the line. Under attack from Germany, Britain was fighting for its survival, and somehow, someway, Churchill had to find a way to inspire his countrymen to greatness.
He chose words. Or, to be more accurate, power words.
Let’s take a look at the passage again, this time with all the power words underlined:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstroustyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Each underlined word makes the audience feel something. In this case, Churchill intermixes words that cause fear, such as “struggle,” “tyranny,” and “terror,” with words that cause hope, such as “strength,” “God,” and “victory.” The last, in particular, is repeated over and over, practically drilling the emotion into the minds of the audience.
It’s no accident. Smart speakers, as well as their speechwriters, sprinkle their speeches with carefully-chosen power words, drawing the audience from one emotion to another as skillfully as any novelist or screenwriter.
Granted, that’s not all they do. The best writers use an entire tool chest of techniques to create emotion, and power words are only one such tool.
But there’s good news.
For beginning writers, power words are one of the easiest tools to master. Unlike many storytelling strategies which can take years of practice to master, you can start sprinkling power words into your writing, and you’ll notice an immediate lift in the quality of your prose.
All you lack is a list of power words to use, but of course, I have you covered there too. 🙂
317 Power Words to Start Using Immediately
For years now, every time I mentioned power words to my students, someone always asked:
“Where can I get a list? Is there a book I can buy?”
Sadly, not that I’m aware of. That’s why I created this list.
Slowly, over a period of several weeks, I catalogued all the power words that jumped out to me, organizing them into categories based on the emotion you want to create, so you can easily find the right word. In the future, I’ll also update the list, adding new words on a regular basis to make it the most comprehensive list of power words available anywhere.
It costs nothing. All I ask in return is you share it with your friends and readers when appropriate, helping it reach the people who need it most.
Want a handy PDF containing all 317 Power Words (plus 50 exclusive bonus words) to download and keep? Get it Here.
Calling All Fearmongers
Let’s do a little experiment.
Just for a moment, stop reading this post, turn on the television, and go to a major news channel. Watch it for five minutes, listening for the words below.
Chances are, you’ll hear dozens of them. Here’s why:
Fear is without a doubt the most powerful emotion for grabbing and keeping an audience’s attention. To make sure you don’t change the channel, news networks load up with fear words, making you worry you might miss something important.
It’s effective. Granted, you can overdo it, but in my opinion, most writers don’t use these types of words nearly enough. They really do connect with people.
Here’s a bunch to get you started:
Give Your Readers a Pep Talk
Let’s face it.
When they’re reading, most people aren’t exactly bouncing off the walls with energy and enthusiasm. They’re probably bored, maybe a little depressed, and almost definitely tired. And they’re looking for something, anything, that’ll wake them up and make them feel better.
The good news?
Your writing can do that for them. Use these power words to give them a pep talk and get them charged up again:
Take a Page from Cosmopolitan (or Playboy)
Like it or not, lust is one of the core human emotions.
Just look at the men’s and women’s magazines in the checkout aisle, and you’ll see what I mean. Nearly every headline on the cover is either blatantly or indirectly about sex.
And it works, not just for men’s and women’s magazines, but for anything. As a writer, you can use words that inspire lust to make almost anything intriguing.
For example: take a look at these two posts I wrote for Copyblogger:
Sex, Lies, and the Art of Commanding Attention
Copyblogger Editor Admits to Sleeping with Readers and Recommends You Do the Same
Both posts use the power of lust to teach people about headlines, of all things. Proof positive that it can be used for anything.
Here’s a lascivious list to get you started:
Start a Riot
As writers, sometimes our job is to anger people.
Not for the fun of it, mind you, but because someone is doing something wrong, and the community needs to take action to correct it. The problem is, with wrongdoing, most people are pretty apathetic – they’ll wait until the situation becomes entirely intolerable to do anything, and by then, it’s often too late.
So, we have to fan the flames. By using the below power words, you can connect with people’s anger, and slowly but surely, you can work them into a frenzy. Just be careful who you target. Lawyers can eat you alive if you pick on the wrong person. 🙂
Know it all
Sick and Tired
Stomp on Their Greed Glands
The legendary copywriter Gary Halbert once said, “If you want people to buy something, stomp on their greed glands until they bleed.” Graphic, yes, but also true.
Skim through good sales copy, and you’ll find a lot of these power words. Many of them are so overused they’ve become cliché, but that doesn’t stop them from working.
The truth is, nearly every human being on the planet is interested in either making or saving money. Use these words to tap into those desires:
Make Them Feel Safe
Greed isn’t the only emotion you want buyers to feel. You also want to make them feel safe.
They need to trust both you and your product or service. They need to have confidence you’ll deliver. They need to believe they’ll get results.
Of course, building that kind of trust starts with having a quality brand and reputation, but the words you use to describe yourself and your product or service also matter. To help your customers feel safe, try to use as many of these power words as possible:
No Questions Asked
No Strings Attached
Try before You Buy
Offer Them a Forbidden Fruit
Remember when you were a kid, and someone told you NOT to do something? From that point on, you could think about little else, right?
The truth is, we’re all fascinated by the mysterious and forbidden. It’s like it’s programmed into our very nature.
So why not tap into that programming?
Whenever you need to create curiosity, sprinkle these power words throughout your writing, and readers won’t be able to help being intrigued:
Behind the Scenes
Want a handy PDF containing all 317 Power Words (plus 50 exclusive bonus words) to download and keep? Get it Here.
Go Ahead and Tell Me. What Words Did I Miss?
Yes, this is an enormous list, but so many power words are available, nobody can possibly catch them all on the first pass. What are some other words that seem to have that extra little spark of emotion inside them?
Leave your answer in the comments, and as time goes by, I’ll come back periodically and update the list. Eventually, I hope to have over 1,000 words here, separated and organized by category, making this the definitive resource for power words on the web.
Thanks in advance for commenting and sharing the post with your friends!
About the Author: Jon Morrow has asked repeatedly to be called “His Royal Awesomeness” but no one listens to him. So, he settles for CEO of Smart Blogger. Poor man. 🙂