I love coming across foreign (to me, as in non-English) words used to describe things that the English language doesn’t have words for. The Japanese have a word for looking worse after a haircut, Age-otori. Hilarious. The Spanish word duende is used to refer to the mysterious power of a work of art to deeply move a person. Been there. That witty retort that you think of hours or days after the opportunity for its delivery has passed? The French have a word for it—L’esprit de l’escalier. Need to learn that one. Germans have a word which refers to excess weight gained due to emotional overeating, Kummerspeck. Mental Floss points out its literal translation: grief bacon. Hello? And, who can’t relate to the Scottish word Tartle, the word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember? Ugh! And, according to Christopher J. Moore, author of In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World, “The Greek word meraki [may-rah-kee] (adjective) is a word that modern Greeks often use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love — when you “put something of yourself” into what you’re doing, whatever it may be. Meraki is often used to describe cooking or preparing a meal, but it can also mean arranging a room, choosing decorations, or setting an elegant table.” Words have an impact on how we see the world and how we view our interactions with the world.
This month, a word I’m interested in, along with my colleagues at Mayerson Academy, is “love.” Each month, we highlight a different character strength and this is the strength word for February. Our partner VIA says that if love is one of your top strengths,
you value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people you feel closest to are the same people whom feel closest to you. Love also falls under the virtue category of Humanity. Humanity describes strengths that manifest in caring relationships with others. These strengths are interpersonal and are mostly relevant in one-on-one relationships.
There are four types of love, each with a biological and evolutionary base:
Attachment love: parent for child; child for parent
Compassionate/altruistic love: kindness
Companionate love: friendship
Romantic love: spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend
For such an elaborate concept, the English language falls woefully short on supplying English speakers with one, all-encompassing word. Because of the word’s limitations, we tend to fling the word love around far too easily and inappropriately. I know I do. I find myself saying things (and hearing things) like, “I love those shoes!” And, “why, yes! I’d love to do that!” And, “I love seeing your friendly smile.” And, of course, the tender “I love you” to loved ones. For all its applications, the shoe example is pretty silly. But the word love covers a whole lot of territory: tenderness; playfulness; admiration; fondness; familial connectivity; understanding; attraction, and on and on.
Love is complex and has wide-ranging uses. It’s no wonder that other cultures have separate words to describe its various descriptive purposes. The ancient Greeks came up with multiple words to describe its various forms. Here are seven:
- Eros: sexual passion. This one is self-explanatory. It’s that lovesick fever you get while falling in love. It burns hot for a while; but over time, its flames die down. It is conditional in nature. Happy Valentine’s Day!
- Philia: deep friendship. This describes the depth of strong friendship over time. It encompasses camaraderie, admiration, loyalty, and the platonic enjoyment of another’s company. This kind of love responds to the qualities in another.
- Storge: familial. This love depicts the kind of devotion that parents exhibit toward their children. It carries a fondness built upon familiarity.
- Ludus: playful love. This refers to the spirited play of young children and the flirtatious nature of new relationships. It is a playful, yet non-committed form of love.
- Agape: love for everyone. This word describes the love one feels for the well-being of others, one’s community, and an overall affinity toward mankind. It is selfless, unconditional, and sacrificial in nature.
- Pragma: longstanding love. This is the love many of us long for. It is the type of love that allows a couple to harmoniously grow old together—one that is deep, mature, and enduring. It’s the time-tested-hard-knocks-survived kind of love.
- Philautia: love of the self. This is not a self-centered, narcissistic kind of love, but rather the healthy, self-actualized kind of love that allows one to have love for others.
So, perhaps I don’t love those shoes after all. I just want them.
What do you love? Whom do you love? Why? And which form of love is it?