"make love"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Aug 18 15:39:40 UTC 2014

On Aug 18, 2014, at 10:54 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> Some years ago it was observed here

Yup; since then it's even been written up. 

> that OED had a huge gap between the
> "clearly innocent" meaning of "make love" and the clearly euphemistic
> meaning in 1950.

My favorite OED cite for the latter is the translation from Queneau, for all the presuppositions it builds in:

1967   B. Wright tr. R. Queneau Between Blue & Blue xiv. 151   When you make love on a bunk,..the man has to bump his head.
> Since then, the entry has been revised to include three earlier exx. The
> one from Orwell, 1934 ("Why is master always so angry with me when he has
> made love to me?") seems very plausible

and a result of mental translation from the Burmese?

> , though nowadays the preposition
> "with" is probably preferred to "to."
> I'm skeptical of the two earlier exx., however:
> 1927 ...Jimmy embraces Margie LaMont and goes through with her the business
> of making love to her by lying on top of her on a couch, each embracing the
> other.
> This is decribes a scene in a play by Mae West. It is hard to believe that
> the on-stage action portrayed sexual intercourse.
> 1929 ...Besides all the big times we had many small ways of making love and
> we tried putting thoughts in the other one's head while we were in
> different rooms.
> This too seems very ambiguous.

True enough, sort of like the earlier examples of "hook up" (although not exhibiting the same ambiguity) before the euphemistic sense began to push out the ordinary metaphorical one.

Note also http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2012/12/making-love.html, which accepts OED's verdict on this example; I agree with JL that it's misplaced.  (Although it could be argued that by 1927 "make love" already involved a slippery slope, as it were.)


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