The Origins of Love

I can’t help it. I’m a word nerd.

I love to research the etymology of words. It amazes me to discover how long a word has been in use, especially if it continues to mean the same thing to generations of people across centuries.

Take the word LOVE. 

As early as the 13th century, the word love was applied to a beloved person and love letters were sent to the one you cared for the most. The roots of the word are all over the map (no doubt because love is a universal concept). The Germanic Old English lufu sounds close to our modern pronunciation of love. The Indo-European root in Sanskrit lubhyati is a little more carnal with a meaning closer to “desires”. And the Latin libet means “it is pleasing”. Incidentally, libet is the root of the modern word “libido”.

I laughed out loud to find that love and sex have been linked for so long. Granted, neither are required in a relationship and can exist on their own, but it says something profound about humans that we want to establish closer bonds with the people we are intimate with.

The word ROMANCE is linked to the language it originated from. 

It derives from the Old French romanz, French being a “romance” language or one based on Latin. The early romances were tales of knights or heroes told in verse to entertain the lords and ladies of the courts of Europe. It was from these tales of knights that the concept of chivalry and courtly love arose.

These brave knights fought for the honor of their fair lady with a pure heart, their carnal trysts forbidden by arranged marriages which could not still the beating of their great love.

I rather like the fact that these stories of love overcoming the obstacles of class, culture, and socio-political pressures are almost the opposite of the modern romance–a story of a character overcoming physical, psychological, or cultural obstacles to finding a love that will diminish those barriers and give them a happily ever after. The HEA is a definite modern attachment to romance. Whereas in the older French tales, lovers would run away to be caught or killed or worse, commit suicide, the modern tales offer the lovers a lifetime of love together.

So what about you? Have you ever looked up the origins of a word and been surprised by what you found?




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