This study examines the automaticity of processing the emotional aspects of words, and characterizes the oscillatory brain dynamics that accompany this automatic processing. Participants read emotionally negative, neutral and positive nouns while performing a color detection task in which only perceptual-level analysis was required. Event-related potentials and time frequency representations were computed from the concurrently measured EEG. Negative words elicited a larger P2 and a larger late positivity than positive and neutral words, indicating deeper semantic/evaluative processing of negative words. In addition, sustained alpha power suppressions were found for the emotional compared to neutral words, in the time range from 500 to 1000 ms post-stimulus. These results suggest that sustained attention was allocated to the emotional words, whereas the attention allocated to the neutral words was released after an initial analysis. This seems to hold even when the emotional content of the words is task-irrelevant.