Liking and loving

An email from my Swedish friend got me to thinking about the words for liking and loving. It sounds as if Swedish is quite similar to Portuguese (and probably many other European languages) in having a very strong distinction between these two words.

In Portuguese, the expression “I love” is only used between lovers or spouses. A parent will not say “I love you” to a child (“Amo-te”), nor will a person say it to a grandmother or best friend. When our son says “I love you,” he says “Gosto muito de ti” — meaning literally, “I like you very much.” It means love, but it doesn’t use the same word.

In English, we use the word “love” promiscuously. We love not just our spouses and children and friends, but also chocolate and dark ales and the movie we just saw. For us the word incorporates everything from intense feelings of romance or affection, to pleasure, to a strong interest. “He loves reading about the Industrial Revolution” is probably indicating interest in a subject more than great pleasure.

Portuguese separates those definitions out and assigns individual words and phrases to them. “Love” is very specific, used only in the romantic sense. “Like” is much broader, used for many of the things English speakers use it for, and modified with “very much” (muito) to indicate the difference between pleasure and strong affection. “I liked the movie” would be “Gostei do filme,” but “I love you, Mom” is “Gosto muito de ti, Mãe.”

Then they toss in the verb “adore” to indicate the sort of high pleasure — stronger than mere liking — that English speakers mean when they say “I love chocolate” or “I love the smell of a new car.”

These are the sorts of language differences that fascinate me. And I have to admit, I like having a word that is specific to a single person in my life. When I tell my wife, “Amo-te,” those two words say everything. And then I tell my stepson, “Gosto muito de ti,” and that says everything too.

But — eu adoro chocolate.

(Note: my wife has just informed me that Brazilian Portuguese uses the verb “love” in much the same broad manner that English does. How interesting!)

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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12 Responses to Liking and loving

  1. M. says:

    This is really interesting. Portuguese is very precise in the loving area. I like it. 🙂
    Well, just let you know, in Polish we use ‘love’ like in English. So you love with the same word your lover, mother, kid, car, chocolate and a favourite book. Also you can fall in love, but you can’t have a crush. I am afraid we don’t have a proper word for crushes 😉

  2. Alma says:

    In Swedish you can also use the word for love, älska, about things like chocolate and walks in the forest, so it’s not at all as specific as the Portuguese word. But it’s not used as indiscriminately as in English, and we also have two “levels” of liking something (gilla and tycka om). That’s the nuance that I miss in English!

    French is even worse, though. They don’t even have a word for like, they only have aimer which means both like and love. It makes things that much more indistinguishable…

  3. lockwooddewitt says:

    The next geoblogospheric carnival (Accretionary Wedge), which I’ll be hosting, is on the topic of “Sexy Geology.” Nothing to do with sex, but geology that makes our hearts race, mouths salivate, eyes dilate. Talk about smudging the line! 🙂

  4. JMG says:

    Using “adore” in Portuguese to indicate high pleasure is “modernish” and somewhat pedantic or tacky. I very much doubt a good writer would use the word in that sense, except if ironically or put in the mouth of a contemporaneous character. But I’m 60 years old, maybe this we’ll become mainstream…Languages do change, not always for the better.

  5. JBrandao says:

    Pedantic it may be, but I am absolutely sure that “adorar” is very much a part of the modern language already, and has been for some time. Just like “fixe”, “bué”, and other stuff.
    A language never EVER changes for the worst or better. It always changes to what suits the people using it in a more utilitarian point of view. Language is just a tool, and like any tool it should be practical, useful, and preferably with an ergonomic shaft to make the handling easier. 🙂

    • Scout says:

      Spot on 🙂 I think that attitude can be applied to many other facets of life too.

    • JMG says:

      “…and like any tool it should be practical, useful, and preferably with an ergonomic shaft to make the handling…”
      No doubt. The tool however must have some inherent quality of raw material and respect of quality standards; otherwise it will soon brake and loose its utility. It happens a lot with new expressions or words, being replaced by something more modern still – meeting however no real need.

  6. Ana_ñ says:

    I like very much this post. And there are so many things to say about this topic. Just one:

    I observe that you say “I love”, “I like”, “(eu) amo-te”, “(eu) gosto (moito) de” and “(eu) adoro”. Therefore, the subject is the person that feels the love or the pleasure. In Spanish, if I love a person, I will use the same construction and say “(yo) te amo”, “(yo) te quiero” or even “(yo) te adoro”, but if what causes me pleasure or attraction is a thing or activity, or if I like a person, I will use verbs with a construction similar to that of the English verbs “interest, “attract” or “fascinate”: the subject of the verb is the cause of the pleasure or attraction. So, I will say “me gusta el pescado” (something like “fish appeals to me” meaning “I like fish”), “me encanta la música” (something like “music captivates me” meaning “I love music”) or “me gusta este chico” (something like “this boy interests me” meaning “I like this boy”)
    Of course, that is a generalization; there are exceptions and nuances, like in all languages.

    • JR says:

      Russian works this same way. If I love a person, I say, ‘я тебя люблю’ [ja tebja ljublju], in English, “I love you.” The subject “I” is in the nominative case, with the object “you” in accusative case, just as it is in English. But if I only like something, I say, ‘Мне нравится этот,’ [mne nravitsja jetot], in English, “To me this is pleasing.” The object that I like becomes the subject in the nominative case, and I become the acted upon party in the dative case. Very much like Spanish.

      And actually, now that I’m thinking about it, it’s the more or less the same In Hindi and Urdu. In Hindi, “I like food” is मुझे भोजन पसंद है [muzhe bhojan pasand hai], “To me food is pleasing.” But, “I love Ram” is मैं राम से प्यार है. [main Ram se pyaar hai], …well, the literal translation is “I with Ram have love.” Awkward, so I’ll go with “I love Ram.” It works the same in Urdu, only you’d probably use a different word for love: ‘میں رام سے محبت کرتے ہیں’ [main Ram se mahabat karti hai], which sounds really weird translated literally: “I with Ram am doing/making love.” It really translates as “I love Ram,” though.

      • Ana_ñ says:

        How interesting, JR, thank you.
        Curiously, when we like –not love– a person, we use the same structure than for things.

        Scout, I don’t think that was a daft question, on the contrary.
        >Do the words add extra value to what you are saying,
        Those words mean that I like something or somebody, but with different intensity and nuance.

        >or is captivate for music and appeal for fish?
        No, not at all. They were examples… and I liked them 🙂

        Oregon Expat, I love your blog (in English) 😉

  7. Scout says:

    I like that “music captivates me.”

    Do the words add extra value to what you are saying, or is captivate for music and appeal for fish? That might sound a bit daft, but the reason I ask is because English has a whole lot of words that essentially mean “a bunch of”

    My Nanna and I once got into a debate over whether you could have a “bunch of ships”. Nanna’s an old Aussie and she was adamant that you had a “fleet of ships” not a bunch. You could have bunches of flowers. Just like you don’t have a “bunch of cows” you have a “herd of cows” Herd vs. Bunch vs Fleet vs…

    I suppose it sounds nicer to say “fleet of ships” but not much is gained in using it over bunch. But appeal vs. captivate, they evoke different feelings. One is good, the other divine 🙂

  8. oregon expat says:

    This has been a very enjoyable discussion. One of my favorite things about writing this blog is the polyglot crowd-sourcing of knowledge available from all of you.

    Also, I love the ergonomic shaft to make handling easier.

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