Is there an specific word that could describe ideas/questions that could stimulate thoughts?

For instance, if someone asks a question:

1). If all the nations in the world are in debt, where did all the money go?

This question seems easy to answer on its face, but in giving the easy answer other questions can carry us into deeper issues of government and finance. How would you describe the characteristic of this question that stimulates thought?

Is there a specific adjective for this or are there just compound/hyphenated adjectives?


The original post provided the example question:

Why is red red?

  • Have you tried researching this using a thesaurus? If you type "'thought-provoking', synonyms" into Google, you will get a dozen suggestions - arresting, enthralling, spellbinding etc
    – WS2
    Jan 27, 2015 at 18:54
  • Food for thought?
    – user66974
    Jan 27, 2015 at 18:55
  • preoccupation, may be.
    – Misti
    Jan 27, 2015 at 18:59

5 Answers 5


My best suggestion would be generative : having the power or function of generating, originating, producing, or reproducing.

Other words that come to mind are provocative (especially if controversial), engaging (giving rise to debate or argument), emotive or affective (if arousing feelings), seminal (if referring to highly influential ideas in the past).

  • Yeah, "provocative" is pretty good (though it has some meanings which might lead one astray). I wouldn't call the OP's sample sentence "engaging" (unless you're a paint dealer).
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 27, 2015 at 20:42

I would use evocative.

evocative (adjective) bringing strong images or feelings to mind.

For example: evocative discussion or evocative lyrics


Word for describing ideas/questions that [truly] stimulate thought

Fascinating is the word I would choose:


Extremely interesting:

from the VERB fascinate


1.0 Attract the strong attention and interest of (someone):

1.1 archaic (Especially of a snake) deprive (prey) of the ability to resist or escape by the power of a gaze:

A question that compels thoughtful research and consideration is fascinating, but I would not put the question Why is "red" red? in that category. Why do we call red things red? would be a step closer to fascinating but would still fall short in my mind. Here is a fascinating question:

If people only use 10-20% of their brains, what is the other 80-90% for?

The etymology of this word is fascinating and particularly relevant to your question:

1590s, "bewitch, enchant," from Middle French fasciner (14c.),

from Latin fascinatus, past participle of fascinare "bewitch, enchant, fascinate,"

from fascinus "a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft," which is of uncertain origin.

Earliest used of witches and of serpents, who were said to be able to cast a spell by a look that rendered one unable to move or resist.

Sense of "delight, attract and hold the attention of" is first recorded 1815.

To fascinate is to bring under a spell, as by the power of the eye; to enchant and to charm are to bring under a spell by some more subtle and mysterious power. [Century Dictionary]

Possibly from Greek baskanos "slander, envy, malice," later "witchcraft, sorcerery," with form influenced by Latin fari "speak" (see fame (n.)), but others say the resemblance of the Latin and Greek words is accidental. The Greek word might be from a Thracian equivalent of Greek phaskein "to say;" compare enchant, and German besprechen "to charm," from sprechen "to speak."

Watkins suggests the Latin word is perhaps from PIE *bhasko- "band, bundle" via a connecting sense of "amulet in the form of a phallus" (compare Latin fascinum "human penis; artificial phallus; dildo"). Related: Fascinated; fascinating.

If [baskanos] and fascinum are indeed related, they would point to a meaning 'curse, spell' in a loanword from an unknown third language. [de Vaan]

  • For "Why is 'red' red?"??
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 27, 2015 at 20:40
  • No, @HotLicks, for ideas/questions that stimulate thoughts. I mentioned in my answer that I thought the example was much less than fascinating :-)
    – ScotM
    Jan 27, 2015 at 20:45
  • Reminds me of an old story, but it won't fit in 600 letters. But ... FANTASTIC! ;)
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 27, 2015 at 20:48
  • 1
    I didn't say it was GOOD story.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 27, 2015 at 21:26
  • 2
    I'm old and I haven't been good (though certainly not as bad as I would have liked).
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 27, 2015 at 21:31

Similar to Krzywinski's suggestion of "provocative", you can use the compound word "thought-provoking".

Thought-provoking: causing people to think seriously about something. Merriam Webster

The compound word may be preferred in some context if you want to disambiguate the sense that "provocative" questions arouse emotions, such as anger and laughter, in addition to thoughts.

Alternatively, we may say your example questions are "illuminating" or "revealing". We stress that your questions throw lights on some deep obscure facts of the world, rather than that they engage the readers in a meaningful way.

Illuminating: providing insight, clarity, or understanding. Merriam Webster


I'm no linguist, but I thought I would contribute since these weren't yet among the given answers:




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