The Languages of Love

English and French abound with fascinating imagery to express the language of love. On this Valentine’s Day, here are a few examples for those who wish to send a bilingual billet-doux to their sweetheart.

The heat of passion

The languages of Shakespeare and Molière are rife with idioms and expressions to describe romantic relationships.

In English, when we fall helplessly and hopelessly in love with someone we’ve just met, it’s “love at first sight.” In French, it’s “un coup de foudre,” quite literally, a lightning bolt.

 If it’s more of an infatuation, a “crush” or a “passing fancy” that we have for someone who may not even be aware of the attraction, the French call it “un béguin” or “une amourette.” A “fling” in English is “une liaison” in French, and an “affair” is “une aventure.” In English, a kiss can be a “peck” or a “smooch;” in French, a “bise” or “bisou.” But be careful when using the verb “baiser” in French—best stick with “embrasser!” And when in Scotland, remember that a “Glasgow kiss” is a head butt!

If you have a “soft spot for someone,” you could say you have “un petit faible pour quelqu’un.” However, if you’re “crazy about someone” or “head over heels in love,” now you’re “fou d’amour” or “en amour par-dessus la tête.”

The art of seduction

Did you know that you can “flirter” in French? This playful verb is one of those words that the English and French have been trading back and forth for centuries. While the modern “flirter” in French has been borrowed from the English, “flirt” was originally descended from the old French word “fleureter.”

Speaking of flirtatious vocabulary, a Torontonian would “whisper sweet nothings” to someone who had “caught their eye,” while a Montrealer would “chanter la pomme” to someone who had “tombé dans son œil.”

You had me at hello

“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”

Ingrid Bergman

In English, some people “wear their heart on their sleeve” when they can’t help but show their feelings. In French, having “le cœur sur la main” means you are inherently generous, having “le cœur sur les lèvres” means you’re sincere, and having “le cœur sur le bord des lèvres” means . . . you’re about to throw up! Similarly, being “heartsick” is not quite the same as having “mal au cœur” (being nauseated), and something that makes your heart light is not something that “soulève le cœur” (makes you feel sick).

What it all comes down to is that it’s important to have your heart in the right place (“avoir le cœur à la bonne place”) and not take things too much to heart (“prendre les choses trop à cœur”).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Published on Thursday, February 14, 2013

Date modified:
2017-09-25