Emotional responses to certain words is often argued to be a result of nurture(acquired through development), while emotional responses to Tone is largely attributable to nature(born with).

Shouldn't there be words/phrases that universally trigger an emotional response or at-least words/phrases that largely seek to trigger an emotional response in American culture?

Example #1: "That man is 'untrustworthy'."

emotional response #1: distrust

Example #2:"You are disgusting for stealing candy from a baby"

emotional response #2: the person being told they are disgusting feels ashamed (or is meant to)

Does American culture have words/phrases that trigger feelings like (fear, happiness, disgust, or pity)?

  • 2
    Don't be too sure that "emotional responses to Tone is largely attributable to nature(born with)." There is no evidence that emotions are the same from culture to culture, let alone the extreme proposal that emotional response to linguistic stimuli are universally genetically determined.
    – jlawler
    Oct 28, 2018 at 23:42
  • In the English language or in American culture there are certain words we use to try to convey the emotion we want, what words do we use for this.
    – john smith
    Oct 29, 2018 at 14:37
  • If you are sure that this is true then you know some. You tell us.
    – jlawler
    Oct 29, 2018 at 15:22
  • Surely every language has words to indicate emotion? "Happy", "sad", "upset", etc?
    – Draconis
    Oct 29, 2018 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


The key is that words and phrases are always learned. If I were talking to someone who spoke no English, the word "untrustworthy" wouldn't mean anything at all to them. People have to learn what the word means.

  • but does American culture or the English language have words for us to convey emotions to each other?
    – john smith
    Oct 29, 2018 at 14:38
  • We have adjectives that describe emotions, and we use them in copulas to say how we feel -- or we use interjections to say how we feel without using grammar.
    – amI
    Oct 30, 2018 at 1:31
  • Not necessarily words that describe an emotion (in American Culture) but a word that evokes an emotion (In English) or is meant to evoke an emotional response. I added another example to help clarify.
    – john smith
    Feb 17, 2019 at 10:37

Not only words are learnt. But also the connotation behind words change, and it is linked to emotion. c.f. the Theseus Ship paradox: the identity of a person is an illusion.

For example after learning Zen, the word "liar" for me has become no longer an insult or an attack to my "integrity". It is a diagnostic, which can be more or less severe:

  • no one knows everything, so all our statements are biased limited view of the universe, and thus are lies. Even when we say something close to the be the truth for us, we are occulting far too many things.

This is not an answer willing to dig in the prinicple of truth, universal or partial: I'm only illustrating how a word really close to an insult has lost absolutely all negative emotional charge now for me.

But the word "liar" remained the same (during my life time).

I chose liar, because it had the same impact on me as untrustworthy, or unloyal had.

I'm a bit provocative here, (something inherited from the Zen) : untrustworthy can be a great quality indeed, here the life of Sophie Scholl, untrustworthy under the Nazi Regime. She is a Traitor... may History remember the Traitors like her!

  • I appreciate your answer and the story you shared about your experience with learning Zen (very insightful on the level of the individual). I think the hang up for this question is that the community thinks I'm asking from an individual base (which is my fault I should be clearer when asking questions). I'm looking for examples of words or phrases that are used socioculturally in the way we spread information (in News, social media, and everyday interaction).
    – john smith
    Feb 20, 2019 at 10:26
  • To better clarify I'll use your example, Sophie Scholl (I found this story very interesting, thank you for sharing it) actions were untrustworthy (to the Nazi party) in modern times her actions could be seen as heroic. For the context of the question I'm not looking at the action of being "untrustworthy" but instead the word "untrustworthy" and the emotional triggers it carries. When someone from the Nazi Regime called Sophie Scholl "untrustworthy" it sparked the feeling of betrayal from those around her, and she payed with these accusation with her life.
    – john smith
    Feb 20, 2019 at 10:48
  • @johnsmith With the traitor: the betrayal can only be seen with the reference of a group/a society. To find the words that triggers emotion worldwide as you seek, this group could have to do with something that is shared world-wide... or even across species boundaries. Considering group mamal: I suggest "Unjust, Unfair". It seems even little monkeys have a clear reaction in front of unfair distribution of food (even when they are not implied). Something based on empathy which all social mamals share probably. My 2 cents: not straigthforward to go in the way of emotional word connotations. Feb 21, 2019 at 10:24
  • I'm not looking world-wide, but in American culture/lexicon.
    – john smith
    Feb 23, 2019 at 17:22

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