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I'm trying to describe a god through the eyes of a devout follower. I've tried using awesome because I tend to use it for scenarios like this (ie. describing something beautiful and horrifying), but it doesn't quite fit. I need something that says "this is magnificent and terrible in equal measures". I feel like I could find the answer in one of lovecraft's novels, but I'm not sure where to even start. Could someone suggest a way to convey the way I'd be using awesome? I'd like it to be clear I'm using it in the traditional sense and not the new (ish) sense.

  • I would have suggested God-fearing if you wanted to describe this devout follower. Nothing says both simultaneously horrifying/fear-provoking and gently loving than a god who destroys entire cities and the human race for sinfulness, and puts people to death for disobeying commandments, while at the same time claiming to be your protective shepherd and one who will wipe away your tears and comfort you. – Zebrafish Aug 25 '18 at 11:59
  • I would avoid using a specific word here. Look at what happened to words like “awesome” or “fantastic”. An expression like “an inchoate mixture of euphoria and fear” might prove to be more durable. – Global Charm Aug 25 '18 at 21:33
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Consider

Sublime defined in the OED as:

Of a feature of nature or art: that fills the mind with a sense of overwhelming grandeur or irresistible power; that inspires awe, great reverence, or other high emotion, by reason of its beauty, vastness, or grandeur.

And

The sublime is an important concept in 18th- and 19th-cent. aesthetics, closely linked to the Romantic movement. It is often (following Burke's theory of aesthetic categories) contrasted with the beautiful and the picturesque, in the fact that the emotion it evokes in the beholder encompasses an element of terror.

Wikipedia citing Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. trans. Abraham Mills. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1856, p. 51

Burke believed that the sublime was something that could provoke terror in the audience, for terror and pain were the strongest of emotions. However, he also believed there was an inherent "pleasure" in this emotion. Anything that is great, infinite or obscure could be an object of terror and the sublime, for there was an element of the unknown about them. Burke finds more than a few instances of terror and the sublime in John Milton's Paradise Lost, in which the figures of Death and Satan are considered sublime.

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    I’d be interested to hear why this got down voted. ‘Sublime’ captures the euphoric element in the question headline as well as the magnificence and terror. I can see that this may not be the best known definition, but interested to hear if it’s the word itself or some other aspect of the answer that has attracted the vote. – Spagirl Aug 25 '18 at 9:59
  • I didn't downvote this, personally, but "sublime" carries a very strong positive emotion. Even if it can mean something that is not good, in modern usage it does not. All the sources you cited to the contrary are over 100 years old, and were more of artistic arguments than common usage. – Drazex Aug 25 '18 at 10:17
  • @Spagirl, I also did not downvote your answer. You have the privilege to see who downvote you. – Ahmed Aug 25 '18 at 10:54
  • @Ahmed I don’t think anyone has a privilege that lets them see who downvotes them and I’m really not bothered by who, just wanted to know why. – Spagirl Aug 25 '18 at 11:16
  • @Spagirl - I don’t entirely agree with your answer. You are correct that sublime (at least in a literary sense) is about feelings beyond the normal, good or bad, and not (as many mistakenly believe) only good feelings. What I am not convinced about is it being applicable to both at once, and my feeling (from its connection with Romance poets) that it should have natural causes. Still... you don’t deserve down votes so I am giving you an upvote. – Roaring Fish Aug 25 '18 at 11:30
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The word awesome is little bit timeworn or to say, overused over the period of time. If we investigate the etymology of the word, then it has necessary ingredients: "inspiring awe or dread" at the same time. Language pedant will advocate to use it in the same sense. But after 1670s, colloquially people started using it as "impressive, very good"1.

The excerpt from the book demonstrates this idea:What Does God Want from Me?: Learning to Hear God’s Voice By Peggy Merritt Hammond

There was no fear! Just total, awesome peace! It was the most awesome experience of God.

The sense of dread is absent in the above example.

Rather, I'd suggest you to use awe-inspiring as stated below.

Suggested usage: The sight of the God is majestic, awe-inspiriting and wonderful, not ordinary or everyday experience.

Fig.1 awe-inspiring synonyms and near synonyms mind-map. enter image description here

awe-inspiring Oxford Dictionaries

Arousing awe through being impressive or formidable.

  • Could awe-struck also fit in this sense? – RomainValeri Aug 25 '18 at 10:11
  • @RomainVALERI yeah! it can be :) – Ubi hatt Aug 25 '18 at 13:16
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Perhaps thrill would be appropriate:

(of an emotion or sensation) pass with a nervous tremor. "the shock of alarm thrilled through her"

This word is often applied to extreme sports (“thrills and spills”) such as sky-diving, which are surely all about being scared to death and euphoric at the same time.

  • "Thrill" is more about the being made excited by something scary. In this case, the OP has framed the question as "magnificent and terrible in equal measure", which is means that both aspects should be distinct not one caused by the other. – Drazex Aug 25 '18 at 9:32
  • No. Fear does not (normally) cause excitement. An earthquake is not a thrill. It is just scary. A sky-diver does not jump out of his aircraft feeling nothing but fear, and then subsequently, part way down, feel excitement triggered by his fear. Both feelings are triggered simultaneously by the act of skydiving, easily combined (as you agree) by the word “thrill”. – Roaring Fish Aug 25 '18 at 10:31
  • The excitement of skydiving is caused by the adrenaline released by the fear. – Drazex Aug 25 '18 at 10:38
  • So you do think adrenaline-causing earthquakes cause pleasure and excitement? That is just bizarre.. – Roaring Fish Aug 25 '18 at 10:54
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Drazex Aug 25 '18 at 11:14
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There isn't any exact, single word for the feeling you requested here, as the answers of some fellow users suggest that. Even I googled for the term that denotes such feeling in highly compiled dictionaries, like Oxford, Cambridge and Merriam Webster but not got which I searched for.

However, there is one phrase-forming (often used with hyphens) preposition called cum that might help you combine the feeling of euphoria and intense, bone-deep fear, for instance: feeling of euphoria-cum-fear. Look at the following usage instance:

  • He looked as though he had a feeling of euphoria-cum-fear.

If you want to replace fear with other alternative term horror, which denotes an intense feeling of fear, it could be like this:

  • He looked as though he had a feeling of euphoria-cum-horror.

Edit: It is note that the word "cum" has negative connotation as a noun. But, as a preposition, it means 'combined with', about which I would say that our focus should be on the meaning of the words rather than focusing on how people consider the word 'cum'.

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    I'd be very wary about using phrases with "cum". Although it is a perfectly acceptable phrase by itself, many readers are going to be thrown off by the increasingly prevalent vulgar meaning of the word. – Drazex Aug 25 '18 at 9:36
  • @Drazex, We should focus on the meaning rather than focusing on how people consider the word 'cum'. – Ahmed Aug 25 '18 at 9:59
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    no, we shouldn't. The OP of looking for a word to use, so how the use of it will be received is just as important as the meaning in isolation. – Drazex Aug 25 '18 at 10:34
  • Since we don't know who the OP's readership is, then there's the trouble that we don't know who'll be seeing the word "cum". I might be wrong but I think that "most" people know the word from Latin honours bestowed upon graduation at college/university. But many, I think most countries, don't use this terminology. To quote Wikipedia: For undergraduate degrees, Latin honors are used in only a few regions such as the United States, Palestine, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and Canada. Most countries use a different scheme. Having said that, I think it's quite creative. – Zebrafish Aug 25 '18 at 11:08
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Personally, I can't think of or find any word that combines the ideas of euphoria and fear, given they are generally so disparate. I even found a list of Lovecraftian vocabulary, and went through them to try to find something that would fit the bill. There are lots of good words for describing terrifying or disgusting things, but nothing that really combines those with euphoria or magnificence. The closest I could find was "stupefying", which helps to have the idea of scale, but doesn't really communicate either the fear or the euphoria properly.

Even "Awesome" is more of a "so grand and above man that it inspires awe" in its classical sense, and while one may fear that which is so much more powerful, I don't think it will easily communicate what you want it to.

So personally, I would go with a pair of words or short phrase (and I believe that is what Lovecraft himself would have done), rather than go for a single word. Actually, I think you already hit on a great way to say it: "magnificent and terrible in equal measure" (no 's', by the way). That, in fact, sounds very Lovecraftian to me. A shorter option would be something like "horrid euphoria".

Hope that helps!

  • “I am Oz, the great and terrible!” – Stephen R Aug 25 '18 at 5:18
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    It seems to me that fear and euphoria commonly go together, and both horror movies and theme parks exist to provide it. – Roaring Fish Aug 25 '18 at 5:47
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    I never said that they don't go together, but their essence is substantially different (the definition of "disparate"). Further, the sense of euphoria being aimed at here is in the sense of ecstasy, not in the sense of the excitement of an adrenaline rush, which makes these a rather different group of sensations (which are easily combined with "thrill"). – Drazex Aug 25 '18 at 9:30
  • @Drazex, how can euphoria be horrid, if it has to do with giving joys, not fear. – Ahmed Aug 25 '18 at 10:03
  • You said “I can’t think of a word that combines the ideas of euphoria and fear given they are so disparate”. That is pretty well saying they don’t go together. Euphoria is excitement: “a feeling of intense excitement or happiness” and, as you say, the fear and the intense excitement is easily combined with “thrill”. – Roaring Fish Aug 25 '18 at 10:24

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