Monday, March 16, 2015

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, or should I say "evolution". 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. Definitely an improvement in my book!

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

AIDEE LADNIER is a writer who loves quirky characters. You can visit her website at or meet her at some of her favorite social media sites:
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Ali Hubbard said...

I need to look etymology up more, because I'm always fascinated by word origins. One that comes to mind is "craft."

I'll be lazy and quote from the Online Etymology Dictionary (which should be legal since it's being used for educational purposes. lol):
"Old English cræft (West Saxon, Northumbrian), -creft (Kentish), originally "power, physical strength, might," from Proto-Germanic *krab-/*kraf- (cognates: Old Frisian kreft, Old High German chraft, German Kraft "strength, skill;" Old Norse kraptr "strength, virtue"). Sense expanded in Old English to include "skill, dexterity; art, science, talent" (via a notion of "mental power"), which led by late Old English to the meaning "trade, handicraft, calling," also "something built or made." The word still was used for "might, power" in Middle English. Use for "small boat" is first recorded 1670s, probably from a phrase similar to vessels of small craft and referring either to the trade they did or the seamanship they required, or perhaps it preserves the word in its original sense of "power."

I like this word because you've got "aircraft, watercraft, witchcraft," and so many more!!! I need the word "wordcraft" to be real.

I also admit to making up etymology for humor's sake. e.g. "appetizer," from Olde French for "spoils your appetite."

Aidee Ladnier said...

I totally agree with you about wordcraft. There is definite power in words. We need that one! LOL!

Another favorite of mine is "nice". It starts out in the 12 century meaning "stupid" or "clumsy", then in the 14th century becomes "fastidious" and "fussy" or "precise and finally settles down in the 1760s to "agreeable" or "delightful" and in the 1830s to be "kind" and "thoughtful". What a rollercoaster of a word!

Louisa Cornell said...

Etymology Online is a God send to me. I love making certain a word is period correct for what I am writing. Actually I love everything about words. I collect them. I am constantly looking for dictionaries of English as it was spoken during the Regency.

I have studied a number of languages and I am fascinated by the overlap between languages, the borrowing and the evolution of words from language to language. For instance, the Russian word kartoffle translates to potato in English. You can see the evolution in the word.

In Chinese the same word can be said with three different inflections and have three different meanings.

Cari Hislop said...

Ali - I had no idea the word "craft" was so interesting.
I'm so glad you shared it!

I love learning about words too. Going along with Ali's Wordcraft and the word spell. We know it associated with magic, but to the Anglo Saxons it meant "Story!" When medieval witches cast a "spell" they were casting a new or unpleasant story onto your life. Somehow we lost the story, but kept the magic. ;)

Like Louisa I write Regencies so there's a lot of word checking. One of the things I found fascinating as that apparently the word Orgasm didn't exist until the mid or late Victorian era. Before that there was no specific word for the experience (that I've come across - if someone else knows different do share!: