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Emotional Dictionary

Also Known As:

Connotative Dictionary



What Is It? The Emotional Dictionary is an enhanced dictionary that provides both "normal" (intellectual or objective) dictionary definitions and the emotional, or connotative, "definitions" for each word or phrase. These connotative meanings show how society at large feels about each word and phrase.

How Would I Use It? Most people look up words in an ordinary dictionary because they are unsure of one or more literal meanings. You would use an Emotional Dictionary for the same reason, but you would also be able to find out how the rest of society feels emotionally about any given word or phrase. Often, the way society feels is quite different from the way you personally feel. Each Emotional Dictionary is society-specific. For example, British connotations differ markedly from American connotations for many words, even though their literal definitions are exactly the same. In this sense, language is the DNA of culture.



"Connotationary" is one name we've coined to differentiate a Connotative or Emotional Dictionary from an ordinary denotative dictionary. Language reference companies will likely find their own labels for this product.

An Emotional Dictionary will provide both kinds of meaning. For example, a regular dictionary gives the following denotative meaning for the word pub:

"a building providing alcoholic drinks for consumption on the premises." (Oxford Dictionary)

However, the word pub simultaneously evokes a host of emotional connotations, such as merriment, pleasure, cheerfulness, perhaps some sadness, and so on.

 Pub.jpg (23819 bytes)

An Emotional Dictionary functions like a standard dictionary, except that it provides both dictionary definitions and connotations in the form of colorful graphical displays that identify specific emotions, power, activity, and the intensity of each connotation.


The illustration below is a preliminary design for a software version of the Emotional Dictionary. (Print versions will look substantially different.) In this screen shot, the dictionary meaning of the word "bullfight" is shown on the left-hand side of the screen. It answers the question all dictionaries answer, "How does society interpret the objective meaning of this word?"

The right-hand side of this screen shot is the connotative side. It answers the question, "How does society feel about this word or phrase?" The lengths of the green and red bars show intensity levels of various emotions, such as Excitement, Anguish, Anxiety, Disgust, etc.

Bullfight_Level_2.jpg (58926 bytes)

This example is specific to North American culture. Someone coming from Spain or Mexico or South America would likely be quite amazed at the nature and intensity of the negative feelings North Americans have towards bullfights.


This raises the point that all connotative language products will be culture-specific. People will actually be able to compare the emotions of one culture with the emotions of another culture concerning exactly the same objects, people, places, institutions, concepts, and so on.

For example, a Spanish version of the Emotional Dictionary will have its own connotative profile for the word "bullfight," which will undoubtedly be quite different from the one shown above. Moreover, any user will be able to look up any word or phrase and compare his or her own personal feelings with the feelings of the surrounding society, as expressed through the Connotationary (Emotional Dictionary).

The Emotional Dictionary will have the same look and feel of an ordinary dictionary in either print or software form. However, the Emotional Dictionary will provide the user with both denotative and connotative meanings of all the words and phrases in the language.


Who will use an Emotional Dictionary, and why? For starters, students. As young people move from grade to grade, they are constantly learning new words, discovering the power and beauty of language, and experimenting with oral and written expression. The Emotional Dictionary, with its emotional profiles of every word, will provide an ideal language laboratory and playground for students, in addition to providing vital information about word meanings.

The Emotional Dictionary also has obvious ESL applications. English as a Second Language is generally fraught with connotative perils. So, having emotional or connotative meaning available in connotative language products will be especially useful in alerting users to words and phrases that are sensitive or controversial in the context of a society composed of many groups, each having different ethnic, religious, political, and racial origins

Other users will be people who use Emotional Dictionaries for the same reasons they now use dictionaries: to maintain and improve their language skills. This is becoming more and more important in online communication—e-mail, blogs, and content for websites.


Most words have several different denotative (dictionary) meanings, or contexts. The Emotional Dictionary will show a different pattern of emotional meaning for each separate context. Here are a few examples. Each example shows the emotional meanings and intensities for two of the several different denotative contexts.

Blood_Connotationary.jpg (32631 bytes)


Coke_Connotationary.jpg (31433 bytes)


Faith_Connotationary.jpg (33450 bytes)


Find_Connotationary.jpg (27897 bytes)


Finally, here are a few examples comparing phrases, idioms, and terms from popular culture.

Come_From_Come_Undone_Connotationary.jpg (30596 bytes)


Girl_Power_Connotationary.jpg (34459 bytes)


Psychopath_Psycho_Connotationary.jpg (37039 bytes)

The Emotional Dictionary will be an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to compare his or her own personal emotional attitudes towards any concept, object, person, place, action, etc., with the attitudes of the surrounding society, or, if using a foreign Emotional Dictionary, with the attitudes of that foreign society.



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