Words at Play

Language of Love: Words for Valentine's Day

Adonis is older than he looks, you know

top 10 words for valentines day vday

Definition: marked by expressions of love or affection; conducive to or suitable for lovemaking; a person of romantic temperament or disposition (noun)

We associate this word with sweetness and love, but it emerged from the conquering powers of the Roman Empire. The expansion of ancient Rome created various dialects of Latin called "romans." (These evolved into Italian, French, Spanish, and others - the Romance languages.) "Romans" were used to write popular stories involving chivalric or courtly love, and such tales became known as romances. If we describe Rome today as a "romantic" city, we're using a word that has travelled a long way to come home.

He supposed that they were engaged, or about to become engaged, but instead of being in the least romantic or exciting, that was as dull as everything else; it annoyed him, too, to think that they were in love.
— Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out, 1915

top 10 words for valentines day valentine

Definition: a sweetheart chosen or complimented on Valentine's Day; a gift or greeting sent on this day

Christianity has more than one martyr named Valentine, and the one, true Valentine is uncertain. Romantics favor the tale of the third-century Roman physician and priest Valentine. Supposedly, Valentine had fallen in love with his jailer's daughter, and shortly before his death sent a letter to her "from your Valentine.”

A valentine may hold different significance for different people, depending on the state of one’s romantic affairs.

A month later, and the windows are full of Cupids, and hearts, and true-lovers’ knots, and a thousand poets use as many modes to assure true Valentines that they will love them “then as now.”
The Saturday Review (London, Eng.), 25 Dec. 1858

I hate you for killing my love for you—killing my love, murdering my affection, slaughtering my feelings. You know once I would do anything for you—yes, anything, I would sing your name and was happy to be your slave and happy to let you mould me the way you wanted to but you kept drumming me with ‘I'm not sentimental, I'm not sentimental’ until I started hating buying you presents, hating buying you Christmas cards and birthday cards and Valentine cards—hating Christmas itself, and birthdays and things like that, until I was as unfeeling and unsentimental as you.
— Shimmer Chinodya, Can We Talk and Other Stories, 2001

top 10 words for valentines day amour

Definition: a usually illicit love affair

Amour has been in English use, as a word, since the 14th century (as a concept it certainly dates back much further). Middle-English borrowed it from Anglo-French; we’ve taken a additional number of amour phrases from the French, including amour propre, amour courtois, and amour fou (“mad love; obsessive passion”).

Pierrot le Fou was already a version of the Carmen story. That is, a story of amour fou, in which an essentially respectable and law-abiding hero is seduced by an irresistible unfaithful woman into a descent into an underworld and a life of crime, on the run from the police. . . . In both cases, amour fou leads to violence and a journey of crime pursuit and death ("Une saison en enfer”).
— Angela Dalle Vacche, Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 23, Iss. 1, 1995

top 10 words for valentines day adonis

Definition: a very handsome young man

In Greek mythology, the beautiful young Adonis was beloved by both Persephone and Aphrodite, so Zeus decreed the young man should divide his time and attention between the two goddesses. He was later killed by a wild boar - an attack that may have been arranged to avenge another of Adonis' romantic intrigues.

I told her my girlfriend left me for a bronzed Adonis. That's really all I thought about.
— Spencer Wise, Literary Review, Spring 2019

top 10 words for valentines day aphrodisiac

Definition: something that excites; an agent that arouses or is held to arouse sexual desire

Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love (who was infatuated with Adonis) gave the Greeks the words 'aphrodisia' (heterosexual pleasure) and 'aphrodisiakos' (a gem with aphrodisiac powers). Our earliest record of aphrodisiac comes from Théophile Bonet’s A guide to the practical physician, in 1686 (“Aphrodisiacks take away also that impotency that is caused by Witchery”).

top 10 words for valentines day infatuation

Definition: foolish or extravagant love or admiration

An infatuation, by definition, is an emotion that shouldn't be taken too seriously. The word's etymology makes the same point. It traces back to the Latin for "foolish" or "silly," as does fatuous (“complacently or inanely foolish“) and fatuity (“something foolish, silly, absurd, or stupid, such as an action”).

Love is a kind of Drunkenness, and infatuation of the Mind and Heart of One, who gives up himself to the swinge of this Passion; this is the Intoxication of the Soul, as the other of the Body.
— Jacques Abbadie, The art of knowing one-self, 1695

top 10 words for valentines day casanova

Definition: lover, especially a man who is a promiscuous and unscrupulous lover

In the 1700s, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was a spy, a clergyman, a gambler, and apparently a man of considerable charm. He was also a writer, and his autobiographical musings about his more than 100 lovers made his name a byword for a man who loves too much.


‘What happened to that last one then? What's her name? Gwenny?’
‘Ah, you know, mos, ou Buke, they come and they go, they come and they go.’
‘Regular bladdy Casanova, hey.’
‘Can I help it if they so attracted by my dancing?’
— Alex La Guma, In the Fog of the Seasons’ End, 1972

top 10 words for valentines day unrequited

Definition: not reciprocated or returned in kind

Sometimes love is requited, and sometimes it is not, a division that is brought into stark relief for some on Valentine’s Day. To requite (a somewhat quaint term) is to give or do something in return for something that another person has given or done (the word comes from the now obsolete quite, meaning “to quit, pay”).

Ntabeni, bitter at heart because of unrequited love and futile schemes, had decided on a desperate course, to visit the warrior boys at the hill-top.
— Randall Langa Peteni, Hill of Fools, 1976

top 10 words for valentines day saccharine

Definition: overly sentimental; mawkish; unpleasantly sweet

Boxes of candy covered with cupids and hearts might, for some people, have a saccharine quality - both in sentiment and taste. For others, romantic and sugary excess is essential to Valentine's Day. Either way, saccharine comes from saccharum, Latin for "sugar." The word dates back to the 1600s. The calorie-free sweetener saccharin (without an e) arrived a couple hundred years later.

It is estimated that some 80,000,000 valentines, saccharine and sour, will be sent this year.
Los Angeles Times, 14 Feb. 1940

top 10 words for valentines day sweetheart

Definition: darling; one who is loved

The Greeks and Egyptians believed the heart was the center of the emotions. English speakers borrowed the idea, and sweet + heart has been a term of endearment - particularly for romantic love - since the Middle Ages. If you don’t care for sweetheart as a term of endearment our language has a number of synonyms to choose from, including puggy, chookie, pigsney, dowsabel, and bully (note: some of the aforementioned words are regionalisms or archaic).

During those moments, the war was suddenly over and he was back in Salisbury, taking in breathfuls of the city air that he could smell laced with burning oil from the belching factories, and he could hear the rumbling metallic roar as the city surged forward and he could see the explosion of colours in Rufaro Stadium on a Sunday afternoon during a crucial soccer match between the city arch-rivals, Dynamos and Chibuku Shumba. And once in a while, he would ask Lillian, his childhood sweetheart, to accompany him as he went window-shopping along the First Street Mall.
— Alexander Kanengoni, Echoing Silences, 1998

diamond earrings in heart shaped box

Definition: to debase in quality for more profit

When commercialize came into use in the early 19th century it did not initially have the tang of disapproval to it; the word first simply meant “to manage on a business basis for profit.” We have an old tradition of commercializing holidays, and a tradition that is almost as old of complaining about this commercialization. Our earliest citation in which someone bemoans this commercial cheapening of Valentine’s Day comes from over a hundred years ago.

Then again, there were several valentine parties held last night. The children of the lower grades of the schools celebrated the occasion, although yet too young to appreciate its full meaning, by making valentines of their own. Thus they reverted to the bygone days of hand painted, super-personal valentines, which have disappeared with the advent of the commercialized thing of frilled paper, ornate and ostentatious, or of the simple card printed by the thousands and so carrying with it less of the individuality of the sender.
The Hartford Courant, 14 Feb. 1915


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