If something is awe inspiring, it inspires awe or similar states of being such as wonder, admiration, or deep appreciation. Various subjects, from situations and events to actual tangible objects, can inspire awe for people. Also, things that inspire awe can affect all senses, not just sight. So, a person can hear something that inspires awe, such as a piece of music, or can taste something that inspires awe, such as can a gourmet meal or a national delicacy with which he is not familiar. People commonly use a variety of different words and phrases that are synonymous with awe inspiring, such as magnificent, overwhelming, and impressive.
This idiom is one of those sayings that presents its meaning in its name. When something is awe inspiring, it inspires awe. The generally accepted definition of awe is the emotion comprised of wonder, amazement, and respect or reverence. So, when someone experiences something that is awe inspiring, he has experienced something that has inspired one or more of the various emotions and states of being that define awe. Of course, what inspires awe for one person might not inspire awe for another person.
Natural scenes often inspire awe for those who see them. For example, a person might describe a beautiful sunset or sunrise, an especially large full moon, or a peaceful snow-covered mountain as awe inspiring. Other more permanent nature scenes, such as America’s Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls or Nepal’s Mount Everest, also inspire awe.
Often, historical monuments, mysteries, and things we do not fully understand inspire wonder and amazement. For example, people might find Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt awe inspiring. The Colosseum in Rome and the Great Wall of China might inspire wonder.
Of course, scenes and events more personal to the viewer can inspire awe, too. For example, experiencing the birthing process, seeing a baby take her first steps, and watching the child graduate from college can all inspire awe for parents and other loved ones. Watching a fellow human or even an animal overcome a physical disability often inspires awe.
Numerous other words and idiomatic expressions convey the same or a similar meaning as awe inspiring. Such words and sayings include breathtaking, wondrous, hair-raising, heart-stirring, and mind-blowing. Perhaps the most commonly used, and misused, synonym is awesome. Technically, awesome is an adjective that describes something that inspires or is worthy of awe. Contemporary uses of the word, especially as slang or during informal speaking or writing, often pair it with anything that the speaker or writer defines as impressive, exciting, or “cool.”