The Power of "Love"

I've been thinking about a small writing side-project over the last few days (more on this in future posts!) and one thing that's kept coming to mind is how words like "love" bring baggage with them.

The word "love" typically has strong positive associations (both cognitive and emotive). I've sometimes wondered whether the positive affect is actually a semantic feature of the word "love", so that calling a relationship a case of "love" is literally a way of expressing approval of that relationship. An alternative thesis is that calling a relationship "love" doesn't per se express approval, but merely suggests a positive attitude of some kind.

Either way, the power of "love" (the word) is not to be taken lightly. In this respect, bell hooks is right to caution us, near the start of All About Love, that having a clear understanding of the meaning of "love" matters. hooks thinks the word should be reserved for relationships which have various features including honesty, respect, care, affection, and trust; and for this reason, she argues, love is inconsistent with abuse.

If she's right, then one reason it's important not to call abusive relationships "love" is simply that it's a misdescription of the world. But it's also important for another reason: calling something "love" imports all those positive associations (perhaps built right into the semantics) of the word "love". In situations where there is actually nothing positive going on, this would be not merely descriptively false but also evaluatively inappropriate.