Lovely misunderstandings

This is exactly why I enjoy studying other languages so much. Language is an extension of culture, and other cultures tend to focus more on seemingly minor details, with interesting results. I remember a story an Italian friend of mine told me, about how she was speaking to a Russian friend of hers (in Russian) and told him she loved him. He was married, so this shocked and upset him. The word love is rather ill-defined in English, and apparently even more so in Russian as they don’t even separate “like” from “love”. Saying “I like tea” and “I love you” in Russian uses the same word she told me.

I used to think something was wrong with me due to my perception of the word “love”, because I never really felt any sort of connection to it. I see others say the same things occasionally, so I know it is not just me. It is almost impossible to talk about it without delving into philosophy, romantic notions of perfect relations, and semantic rhetoric on the circumstances and context of the word, otherwise it has no meaning.

The thing is, my Italian friend explained to the Russian man, in her language they have several different words for love. Unfortunately I don’t speak Italian, but I’ve come across the Ancient Greeks’ 6 Words for Love, which sound very much like she described. It seems the flaw was not in myself, but a flaw within the English language, and by extension, English culture.

I’ve been telling myself I no longer feel love. Perhaps a better way to explain it would be, I am no longer concerned with eros or ludus. I am getting older and find more of a philia or pragma, though my friendships tend to be too distant to really experience that very deeply as well. Which suits me for the moment. The Ancient Greek philosophers said this is normal, eros and ludus are the playful, passionate love of youth, but not of a friend or someone you are married to.

It also explains a religious concept that has confounded me for as long as I’ve heard people trying to argue religion: agape. This is a godly love, or the distant love of strangers. One could call it empathy, or sympathy as well. Whenever people talk about “God’s love”, according to the original Greek translations of the bible, they meant the same sort of love you feel for a character in a movie, or a homeless person on the streets.

Hopefully other people whose mother tongue is English can learn a few things from the Ancient Greeks here.

2 thoughts on “Lovely misunderstandings”

  1. English has approximately a million words, and yet the same word is used to denote different things or even opposites; and different words are used to denote things so similar than many even educated native English speakers are apparently unable to discern the distinctions.

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