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Who hasn’t made some embarrassing error in the realm of love? Misinterpreting a potential lover’s intentions can be humiliating, painful – even fatal. Published in 1777, one DIctionary of Love aimed to set the record straight once and for all, amidst concern at the recent enthusiasm for ‘stabbing, poisoning one’s self, and the like’ in the name of love. No more would the people of England be subjected to the ‘vexatious, lamentable circumstance’ of suffering their blossoming relationships to fail horribly.

According to the wisdom of the 1770s, if we want to win someone’s heart, we should all be paying particular attention to the language of love. Indeed, even if all else fails, a suitor need only pluck the right words from the air and their beloved will instantly and eagerly submit to their every whim:

“Thus, when a love whines out, No! it is impossible to resist such attractions: This phrase… imports: “If all the soft trash I have expended upon you is not yet able to touch you, I have a reserve-lunge*, which you will, with all your cunning be hardly able to parry; and this is it’ – Then, attractions, charms, inchanting beauty, are let fly in a volley, and never fail of doing wonderful execution.”

* That’s right ladies, a RESERVE-LUNGE. Phwoar

Here, then, are some common phrases of endearment used in the eighteenth century – feel free to employ them as you see fit.

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BURN.
I burn for you, has now an ill grace even in poetry: and as to any meaning, it is scarce of more significance than talking to a woman of the weather, or the like.

 

DESPAIR.
You drive me to despair, in the mouth of a lover, signifies simply, ‘things do not go on so smooth as I could wish; since I must despair of obtaining any thing to-day, I must adjourn my operations to a better season…’

 

DISTRACTION.
I love you to distraction; signifies about as much as the superlative employed in concluding a letter: that is to say, nothing at all.

 

ENCHANTMENT.
A term much used in the magic of love. An enchanting fair one, &c.

 

ESTEEM.
A young man, who tells a disagreeable prude, or a woman on the decline, that he esteems her, means, that she is a fool to entertain any pretensions to his heart; and that he does not esteem her enough to have the complaisance of telling her that he loves her.

 

ETERNAL.
I will love you eternally: My flames will be eternal. Ridiculous phrases! which signifies, ‘My passion will last as long as it will last.’

 

GRACES.
The Graces accompany you every where. This stale, thread-bare compliment, and a number of others, in which the Graces are most ungracefully dragged in, have the same signification as charms, beauty, attractions, &c.

 

HAPPY.
How happy am I, now you tell me you love me? means, ‘You rid me of a great deal of plague I have had to bring you to my point: I have no further occasion for all the drudgery of courtship.’

 

INDIFFERENT.
How indifferent you are? That is as much as to say, ‘I wonder you can have so little attention to my merit.’

 

OBJECT.
The object of my tenderness, of means, ‘One who serves me for amusement, or for one upon whom I have the very worst intentions, under the colour of love.’

 

PRAISE.
I am not the dupe of these compliments: I hate praise. These are only traps for more of it; nor is there any danger of overdoing it with them.

 

REASON.
You make me lose my reason, in a lover’s mouth, signifies, ‘Since it is a maxim in love, that none is a thorough lover who has any share of reason, I renounce at least the appearances of it, in hopes to bring you to renounce the reality.’

 

TRUCE.
Truce, I beg you, good Sir, with your compliments. This phrase used by a woman who is immoderately praised, signifies, ‘I am insatiable upon the article of compliment; the way to make you continue them is to plead modesty, which will furnish you a new topic upon which to praise me.’

 

UGLY

How ugly you are! only signifies, That in spite of myself I love you…

 

UNJUSTICE.
You do me great unjustice. The meaning of which is, ‘It is true, I saunter, I flutter from beauty to beauty; but why should you find fault with me? It is the way of the world.’

 

decImage:The jelly-house macaroni (1772). Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

 

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8 thoughts on “Learning the Language of Love, 1777

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