Mind your language

The increasingly irritating language of ‘love’

11 July 2020

9:00 AM

11 July 2020

9:00 AM

It is 17 years since we began to hear McDonald’s: ‘I’m lovin’ it.’ This was always annoying, but most of us could only object by asserting that one simply could not say: ‘I’m lovin’ it.’ It should be: ‘I love it.’

Yet I doubt we’d be more convincing by saying (truly enough) that love is a stative verb which cannot be conjugated in the continuous aspect. In that it resembles know, fear, ownor hear.

Anyway, apart from the great McDonald’s annoyance, I have become increasingly irritated by the widespread use of lovefollowed by a clause introduced by that. An example in the Sunwas someone enthusing about a dress from Tesco: ‘I love that there’s no zip.’

This usage has got up steam in the past year or two. The old usage and the new are both shown in a quotation in the Guardianfrom a local reporter. ‘I love the way we are in a position to help people,’ she told the paper. ‘I love that we can champion people’s causes.’

We used to love things (people, music, the way), and these things might be expressed by infinitives, such as to run, or by verbal nouns (gerunds), such as running, to give constructions like: ‘I love our being able to champion people’s causes.’

My impression was that the new usage had arrived recently from America. But five minutes with the Oxford English Dictionaryrevealed that love with a ‘that’ clause as object has been used in English for nearly 300 years. Yet I don’t quite give up the contention that it is unidiomatic.

The first citation given is from a translation made in 1739 of Molière’s Le dépit amoureux: ‘I love that Erastus should thus love me.’ I suspect that this was influenced by the original ‘aimé-je fort qu’Éraste m’aime’.

Then there’s a quotation from Conan Doyle’s story ‘How Brigadier Gerard Lost His Ear’. It is not easy to tell if the author is trying to make the speech of a Venetian beauty sound slightly foreign. She says to the hero: ‘You must not care, Etienne. And yet I love that you should care.’

I love people to care too, but sometimes I can’t stand the way they put it.

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