Where did love come into play?

Posted: June 23, 2015 in etymology, histroy, love
Tags: , , ,

The Origin of the Word Love

Edurne Scott

6 years ago

Love is a word used to describe one, if not the most, potent experiences available to humans. The word love was once *leubh, a word used by the Proto-Indo-Europeans approximately five thousand years ago to describe care and desire. When love was incorporated into Old English as lufu, it had turned into both a noun to describe, “deep affection” and its offspring verb, “to be very fond of”.

Love and Religion

One of the earliest uses of love, and its biggest influence, was religion. Love was used to describe the benevolence and affection of God, as well as the affectionate devotion due to God, “God is loue, and hee that dwelleth in loue, dwelleth in God” (John 4:16). From this widely recognized meaning, love began to be used to positively describe instances of affection or acts of kindness.

Falling in Love

From Middle English onwards, the most popular meaning for love however was to describe a “beloved person” (1255)-especially one’s sweetheart. This naturally turned love into an intimate form of address which began to describe goings on of lovers such as love letters (c.1240) and love songs (c.1310). One could say that they had “fallen in love” with someone from 1423, and under a hundred years later that they were lovesick (1530). To make love (1580) meant to “pay amorous attention” to another person and it wasn’t till the middle of the twentieth century that it became a euphemism for sexual intercourse. The word love was introduced to tennis from 1742 to mean no score- from the notion of playing “for love”, came the notion “playing for nothing”.

Love and Sex

Of course the sexual meaning of love was present from the very beginnings of Old English, but it was not till the late 17th century that love was more strongly associated with sex. At first love was used to describe the personification of sexual affection in the form of cupid, “Wher’er her step in beauty moves, around her fly a thousand loves”. By the early 18th century however, love began to mean an illicit partner, or even sexual intercourse itself. From this meaning came the negative term love brat, or its modern form love child (1805), which described a child born out of wedlock. New meanings for love were still being created well into the 20th century- love life (1919) began to mean “one’s collective amorous activities” and was originally used as psychological jargon.


What “love” means from person to person, let alone from century to century, is one of the most varied in the English language. From describing one’s faith to God to describing a child born out of wedlock, the connotations for love are many and varied.


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