Sammy Nickalls
March 10, 2015 6:00 am

Language is an ever-changing concept. This is a belief I’ve carried my entire life. If a word is used often enough in a certain context, even if it’s technically considered “incorrect,” it’s simply language evolving, making up for a weakness that we previously couldn’t explain, filling the gaps in our speech and words and helping us grow closer together as human beings. This is what made me fall in love with language in the first place — which brings me to the issue I’ve been grappling with lately: the meaning of the word “love.”

Recently, my brother pointed something out about my manner of speaking that I had never noticed before. After proclaiming my undying love for the cereal I was eating, he stopped and looked at me.

“You say ‘love’ too often,” he said. “Using it so often devalues the meaning of the word.”

I considered this for a second, and tallied up my uses of the word that day. It was true: in the past 24 hours, I had said out loud that I loved my car, Netflix, and tea. Suddenly, I was disturbed. My entire life, I have never had a shortage of love to give. I had always viewed that as a positive; but now, I saw it in an entirely new light. Had I been diminishing my sentiments to the people I care about by overusing the word?

A few days ago, my boyfriend told me he loved me for the first time. After grinning like an idiot for the next 24 hours—the man of my dreams loves me, ohmygosh!—I considered what my response, “I love you, too,” really meant. Was it as powerful of a statement as I wanted it to be?

Along with my view of language evolution, I’ve always subscribed to the belief that the more positivity we can breathe out into the world, the more positivity we will invite back into our lives. And thus, I have never stopped myself from expressing my appreciation for the little things in life. It is undeniable that I am absolutely 100% in love with my boyfriend; but by proclaiming I love my cereal and my Netflix account with the same fervor, had I dulled the bright, vibrant meaning of the word “love”? Had I doomed it to be equated with breakfast and binge-watching, rather than the person I want to be with? Had I effectively limited my ability to express my true adoration because I’ve been handing it out to inanimate objects left and right my entire life?

But something deep within me told me no — using common sense and deduction, my boyfriend knows that my love for him is on a totally different plane than my love for breakfast cereal. Why? Because language is evolving. We are collectively changing how we express our positivity and appreciation, and thus, we are using the word “love” more — and the word doesn’t only have one singular definition.

Once again, language has proved itself to be a wonderful, amazing, ever-changing thing. It has evolved to bridge a very real gap. When we start limiting our positive expressions — putting a filter on them, analyzing them, ruminating over them — we are focusing on the wrong things and encouraging the restraint of verbalizing appreciation. We are actually transforming it into a negative, making us too afraid to express how we feel about the little things, and certainly about the big things. By restraining the use of the word “love,” we aren’t making it more powerful; we’re just making it harder to reach out to those we care about and tell them how we really feel. By giving its meaning so much weight, we’re diminishing it.

It’s not the word itself that holds that weight — it’s the way we say it. It’s the action of saying it. When my boyfriend told me he loved me, the word didn’t hold my face in its hands and send chills down my spine. The word didn’t stroke my hair and give me a long, passionate kiss — he did.

By saying we love our cereal, or that we love our car, we are not diminishing the vigor of the word “love,” nor are we discarding the old definition. We are creating new definitions. There’s the more casual form of love — love for eating a delicious meal for the hell of it, love for getting lost in a great book, love for driving on a sunny day with the windows down — that helps us express our passion for life. But there’s also the definition that transcends everything else in life, that helps us define why we’re here and what we’re living for.

There are multiple definitions for the word “love” because our society is learning how to reach out and become connected in new ways. Language has provided an outlet for expressing our positivity and appreciation in an unfiltered, raw way — without worrying about the weight of a four-letter word.

. . . And I love it.

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