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!)