"Making love"

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Wed Apr 10 18:06:04 UTC 2002

On Wed, Apr 10, 2002 at 11:11:53AM -0500, Majors, Tivoli wrote:
> Hi all!
> I got a query today from a collegue who teaches 19th century fiction. Her
> students are concerned about the use of the phrase "making love" in the
> fiction of that era. Today, the students are quite taken aback by the term
> because of its link to sexual activity, but my collegue says that in the
> 19th century fiction, the term was quite innocent with a meaning akin to
> "romantic activity" instead of anything sexual.
> Does anyone know approximately when this shift in meaning occurred or do you
> have any other information relating to this phrase?

As others have pointed out, the earliest clear example in OED is
from 1950.

I've been interested in this shift myself, and have paid a lot of attention
to examples that seem to represent the sexual sense. The earliest
unquestionable examples I know of are from the 1920s, though I've found
a number from the 1930s. As for anything significantly earlier, I've seen
an example from the 1860s in an American pornographic novel that's
somewhat ambiguous.

But as far as your colleague's students are concerned, I don't think
there's much question that uses in typical 19th-C fiction represent
solely the 'court; woo' sense, and don't even suggest a sexual meaning.

Fred, prove me wrong.

Jesse Sheidlower

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