The English Language isn't that Bad for Discussing Love

by Marcus Otte


In Catholic circles, you often hear that English is deficient because we only have one word for “love,” whereas the ancient Greeks had four, or five, or six (the number changes depending on who you talk to). Supposedly, this wider vocabulary meant the Greeks had words for specifying different kinds of love, e.g., brotherly love vs. romantic love, whereas English-speakers are stuck with one all-encompassing (and therefore, ambiguous) word: love.

This is quite silly. For one, it’s just not true that English has one word for love. Nouns that mean a kind of love would include: affection, friendship, fraternity, passion, devotedness, etc. Verbs include: adore, desire, delight in, relish, and care for. I see no reason to think that English is any less versatile than Greek when it comes to signifying the variety of loves. If it is true that strogephiliaeros, and agape are each words for “love,” then it must be conceded that the above English words likewise mean “love.” 


Second, there is an advantage to having one all-encompassing, ambiguous word, in addition to more specific words. The word “love,” precisely because it ranges over so many different phenomena, and has so many different but related meanings, actually reflects a profound truth about love: the reality of love is analogical. Brotherly love, romantic love, the love of neighborly charity, and the love of God are all different. But they are not altogether different. They are importantly alike. So, why shouldn’t we have at least one word that encompasses them all?


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