All You Need is…

Ti voglio bene.

This great Italian phrase is quite revealing of how we talk about love differently across different languages. If you were to translate it directly into English, it would be I want you well, but that doesn’t capture the meaning. The closest would be I love you, but even then that’s not exactly the same. In English, we tend to reserve I love you only for our most intimate romantic partners, and not for anyone else.

But as with speakers of many other languages, Italians can distinguish between ti voglio bene (love for close friends or family) and ti amo (romantic love). While technically we can use I love you in English with anyone close to us, in practice this doesn’t really happen so often. Except sometimes among young men after the requisite amount of alcohol has been consumed, of course.

We have other related words which a thesaurus will tell you are close enough to love to be almost synonymous, such as to cherish or adore, but we don’t really ever use them sincerely to refer to another person.

But while we might be reticent to use I love you too freely, it’s another story entirely with I love… One aspect of English usage that non-native speakers often find unusual is the way we will say that we love absolutely anything:

I love your shoes!

I love this song!

I love the pizza there.

I love the episode of Game of Thrones where REDACTED gets REDACTED right in the REDACTED.

We can call someone we’ve never met before love without hesitation:

What can I get you love? Guinness? No problem love.

Does it cheapen the word, rob it of its power? Does it say anything about how the English language can struggle with intimacy, can be too polite? Maybe we’ve taken this word which should be one of the most intimate ones and made it banal in order to save ourselves from using it in its intended way. Or maybe, as I suspect, it’s simply an effective way to show that you really like something.

Which still leaves us with the issues of using I love you in a non-romantic way. We should try to find an English equivalent of ti voglio bene, and maybe another way to say I love Thai food and puppies. It’s fine to use love like that, really, but we can never have enough ways to say we love something in a language.

I recommend we look to other languages to find more specific ways to refer to different kinds of love, and feelings in general. Here is an interesting article about different ways to refer to feelings which I think English could benefit from. We’ve already taken schadenfreude from German thanks to The Simpsons. Why not also gezelligheid (Dutch), the comfort and coziness of being at home, with friends or loved ones, or general togetherness? Or how about saudade (Portuguese), a somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness, longing for something that may never return, yearning?

We’ve all probably felt a sense of saudade remembering the good old days spent in gezelligheid with those we voglioed bene.


4 thoughts on “All You Need is…

  1. […] Koenig in 2012, as part of his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows: a project to create English words for feelings that don’t have words to describe them in English. Interestingly though, he’s not just pulling words out of the air, but basing them on words […]


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