Etymological Notes: "Love" (semi-long)

carljweber carljweber at MSN.COM
Sun Dec 30 21:32:29 UTC 2001

Etymological Notes: "Love" (semi-long)

Carl Jeffrey Weber


We pick up with a dedication <<< "To my mother for her inordinate affection
[to me]..." The editors probably thought, Hey, if something had been going
on between mother and son, who are we to put in our two cents worth? >>>

The pick up continues, <<< "inordinate affection/love," is a collocational
phrase that means something bad, very bad, in the contexts in which it is
used. (Questions of sexual orientation would not be relevant). It occurs
frequently in ascetical Christian religious literature. "Inordinate," by
morphology and definition, is negative in meaning >>> .

I suspect something going on here like "heads you win, tails I lose".
"Inordinate love" is NOT equivalent to "inordinate affection" in historical
English. Pop usage be what it may.

It seems "inordinate" can be a euphemism for the polite/opprobrious "bad".
We use a different word today for the opprobrious bad: "Inappropriate". (And
the word "inappropriate" collocates better with the word "touching".)
"Inordinate/inappropriate" can each suggest "excessive" or "abusive," or "to
a fault." Of note - "not being ordered or ordinary", and also, "not being
apropos", are not necessarily bad. But here they are linguistically marked
for bad, as when someone has an "attitude". Everybody knows you can have a
good OR bad attitude, but if someone says you have one, they always mean a
bad one -- like a person has a "condition". It is always a bad thing.

The topic though, analyzes the language of a DEDICATION. Wouldn't this
suggest a polite and courteous register of language use?

<<<  . Hey, if something had been going on between mother and son, who are
we to put in our two cents worth? >>>

Douglas Wilson: <<< Now, just a moment. I'm a learner of English at a
relatively high grade level, and I don't have any problem at all with that
dedication as quoted.>>>

Doug says the expression "inordinate love/affection" is  <<< perhaps used
for 'mild self-deprecation' as in "You are too kind", "This is more than I
deserve", etc.) and possibly meaning merely "unrestrained". Had I been the
editor, I would have passed it without a thought; had I (as editor) received
a specific query about it, I would have said that it looked perfectly fine
(although "inordinate" would not be my own first-choice word here) >>>

Doug then goes on to give usage data from Anne Bronte and Konrad Lorenz to
show two examples of "inordinate love" as a good thing, and then gives an
example of a bad meaning, "a possessive mother's inordinate love" which has
the negative sense of excessive to a fault, etc.

(Notwithstanding the original was "inordinate affection", not "love"), Doug
says "inordinate love"  = "immoderate" or "unrestrained love". It "doesn't
have any sexual connotations."

The register of language in the topic example accords it the register that
is, among other things, polite and courteous. This seems right to me, and
the Lack of Sexual Connotation School of linguistic interpretation wins over
the Saturday Night Live School.

The topic opened with "inordinate AFFECTION".  An intermediary comment then
associated "AFFECTION with LOVE", as equivalents, and next Doug gaves
examples of "inordinate LOVE".


Are not "love" and "affection" inappropriately associated here?

Our modern word "love" is a blend of two Old English roots. One meant "to
like", the other meant "to praise". The modern word "love" is a blend of
those two words, which is why you can speak of the "love" of the most
trivial thing, and then of the "love" of God. It's in the first instance
that "to love" means "to like" and in the second that "to love" means "to
praise" (God). Now, accepted as an English word, "praise" was borrowed from
the French subsequent to the Norman Conquest in 1066.

In historical English usage, the "lover" was always the boy. The girl's
"lover" was not so named because he "made love" to her -- "made love" today
is a euphemism for either, 1., technical medical words, or 2., ones straight
out of society's linguistic gutter. The language's most famous four letter
word is allowed as a synonym for "make love". And then, that same four
letter word is used as possibly equivalent to "rot" as a condemnative, I'll
call it, as in "rotten idiot".

"Love" as it comes from our basic Old English has nothing to do with sex -
sex being what the boy and the girl, as expressed in the English language of
today, HAVE with each other. "Love", here means, "to really really REALLY
like a whole lot, and nothing more than like to the tenth power. "Praise be
to God", was in Old English, "Love God!" "To love God" does not mean "to
like Him a whole whole lot".

One can show love (i.e., that you "like" something or somebody a whole lot)
affectively, and this "affection" is externalizing behavior. This is not
implied in the English word "love". "Affection" is warm and fuzzy affect,
whereas "to really like, a whole lot, more than anything or anybody in the
whole world," is all there is, and nothing more.

But what of the word "love" as the "real special bond" the boy and girl have
for each other? It seems an extension of the meaning "to mega-like". There
is no special word. We must go to the Romance languages for the words of
special bonding between the sexes, with a Western Valentines kind of love
that is perhaps in the "mar-' roots. English has words for bonding between
the sexes, like "betroth" and "wed". The "mar", though, I strongly suspect,
did more than simply come through Latin for "young girl" - i.e., probably
maiden (cf. Pallas Athena, Joan of Arc, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc.).
In Mexico today they can say "All the little Maria's all over Mexico".
Perhaps "mar" is same sourced in "marry" and "martial" - seen in the second
millennium BC as the "oh my hero" theme, going way back on the IE Oriental
side, and eventually spread with the Pax Romana

But, on the Occidental side, consider the song, "What's Love Got to Do with
It". It's about a female sexual availability script in which the guys
immediately proceed to home plate sometime between sundown and sunrise.
Presumably everybody would be externalizing behaviors of warm and fuzzy
affect, affectionate "shows" of "love" - "yes darling.", or, "yea baby, I DO
love you". Isn't "love" erroneously equated with "affection", and "love and
affection" are both synonymized with "sex". Our language is being
synonymized through guilt by association. Even makin' "whoopee" never got
far beyond first base before it fell in the gutter.Too bad. The boys and
girls should learn good definitions in middle school - the usage in pop
culture be what it may. They hear more standard English and three syllable
words on the Simpsons than they get all day in Chicago schools.

Conclusion: When he says thank you for your "inordinate love" it is good
with no sexual connotations in the identified register. It is not bad!!!
"Inordinate affection", however, could be good, could be bad, and doesn't
strictly have to do with the word "love" that developed from two Old English
roots meaning "like" and "praise".

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