There Is No Word for ‘Love’ in Slang

Mr Slang searches for love, and finds only sex and drugs…

I tried to write a musical once. No, you shouldn’t laugh, really. I had lunched well,  couldn’t face the database and it served to counterfeit work. It was called – goodness, how did you guess – Slang! I forget the plot – which is always the problem: I can sketch the puppets but can never make them dance – and it came to nothing. I composed, well, doodled, what I laughingly termed some lyrics. There was only one that was passable. It was called ‘There’s No Word for “Love” in Slang’. As I recall, the hero (poor, honest and resolutely foul-mouthed) sang it on his way to meet the heroine (rich, daughter of a grasping, snobbish papa, and forbidden on pain of disinheritance any non-standard syllables). You can see why I didn’t finish it. But the song title was correct. Because there isn’t.

Valentine’s Day will have passed by the time this appears, but no troths will have been plighted on behalf of the counter-language. If one searches for ‘love’ as a headword, one finds several. Though none, I would note, a verb. There is love as in ‘love of a…’ which is a term of praise kindred to duck, as in ‘duck of …’  and tends to apply to small children or else items of clothing: hats, dresses, although Walter, he of My Secret Life, recalls how, on holiday, his hosts offered to ‘get me a love of an Italian boy to bugger.’ And there is the cry of Lord love a duck! which combines them.  But it should surprise no-one that love is usually found in compounds, and that in the bulk of those compounds the word is substituting for ‘sex’. Thus these, for the penis, which of which at least some seem to have escaped from heavy metal, or at least a Spinal Tap tribute band: love bone, love dart, love gun, love hammer, love muscle, love pump, love rod, love staff, lovesteak, love stick, love torpedo, love truncheon and love warrior.  (Not mention corporal love, which fleshy non-com ‘stands to attention’). If one has one genital than one must have its opposite number. Here it is: the love box, love canal, love crack, love flesh, love glove, love hole, love lane (and thus  take a turn on Love Lane and Mount Pleasant, to have sex), lovelips, love’s cabinet, love seat and the love shack which can double as the place a man keeps for seductions and as an object of sexual desire (who can also, lord help them, be a love muffin) and conquest. (The fountain or treasury of love work too).

Nor are we done with the licentious list: love apples, grenades and spuds are testicles; the love button is the clitoris, love rug the female pubic hair, love custard and love juice semen, and the love envelope, a condom. Love handles (the idea being that one can hold on to them during sex) represent the excess flesh around a portly stomach that may be seen in a kinder light by those who appreciate the Rubenesque figure. There is the love bug, which in this context stands for VD rather than VW, as in the twee Herbie. And, how could we forget, the love machine is a what an older synonymy termed the ‘town bull.’

Love’s lexis is not all sexual. There are always the drugs: a love affair (punning on slang’s nicknames) is a speedball, i.e. a mixture of heroin (‘boy’) and cocaine (‘girl’). The love drug, plain and simple, is MDMA or Ecstasy, love weed marijuana and pure love LSD. Love curls were a hairstyle in which the hair is cut short and worn low over the forehead, love-pot  a drunkard. Perhaps slang’s take is best summed up in love letter, an American usage of the 1940s defined either as a bullet or as some form of hard projectile thrown at a human target.  And for the love of Mike! (who can also be Heaven! holy Buddha! Jupiter! Michael Angelo! Moses! Pete (and Alf)! Peter the hermit! and Polly Simpkins!) is an exclamation of exasperation or surprise.

One can expand the search, but can one render the definitions more affectionate? No. Love and kisses, rhyming on ‘the missus’ at least suggests a tinge of harmony, but love and marriage is merely a carriage, while other rhymes offer love and hate (weight), God-love-her (one’s mother) and light of love (a prison governor), and never forget that this, un-rhymed, means a whore.

Last chance: definitions containing ‘love’. Excluding those that include ‘affair’. Slang resists moderation and passion, even obsession are the rule. Not much improvement here. Do one’s balls on, busted on, collared on, dead set on, daffydotty, doughy, drop one’s ovaries (a gay term as it happens, at least in South Africa), fall for, have it for, hung up on, gone a million, nuts on, potty, snowed over, soft, spoons on, stuck on, go turtles on (‘turtle dove’ = love) and wrapped. Is it me, or do other also fail to hear much in the way of hearts and flowers? Half of them, after all, are synonyms for ‘mad’. As for sugar on and sweet on, it is not merely my diabetes that shudders.

I give up. Slang and love use single beds, or draw a line with what used to be known as the Dutch wife, i.e. a bolster (though modern use has redefined the phrase as a blow-up ‘love doll’). I gave up the musical too. Let it not be said, however, that my creative fantasies are at an end. I see…the hard-boiled slang lexicographer. ‘They call me Lex, lady, Lex Argot. Argot’s the name — etymology’s my game’. No guns, just a vast and heavy book. And maybe the cute and of course sassy lesbian mixed-race sidekick, who speaks only in Multi-ethnic London English. Or rhyming slang. ‘There are 120,000 words in the naked dictionary: this has been one of them.’

image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.
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About Author Profile: Jonathon Green

Jonathon 'Mr Slang' Green is the world's leading lexicographer of English slang. You can buy Green's Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon's more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.

8 thoughts on “There Is No Word for ‘Love’ in Slang

    February 16, 2012 at 13:21

    wow I can’t believe that there are no slang words for love! Reflecting I suppose the ‘unromantic’ masculine origin of most slang words?

  2. Brit
    February 16, 2012 at 13:30

    I would dearly love to see Slang! The Musical.

    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    February 16, 2012 at 14:00

    Great stuff. I heart you, Mr. Slang!

    February 16, 2012 at 17:18

    Slang, The Musical the imagination runs riot, the big show stopping number, ‘the slags chorus’ followed by the duet ‘that north & south, those mince pies drive me wild, honeychild’ I suggest Julie Covington and Michael Crawford as the thwarted luvvies.
    The phrase I love you has a number of stand-ins, I ‘narf fancy you petal, the cop out for many a lovelorn spotty swain pledging his eternal troth in a roundabout kind of way. It’s the Petal that gets ’em, that, 11 Babychams and Sinatra singing Laura.

    John Halliwell
    February 17, 2012 at 09:49

    Slang – The Musical is a great idea: the story of a brilliant, eternally irascible, sixty something lexicographer who, for all his achievements, remains professionally unsatisfied due to his failure to discover the Lost Slang Dictionary of Pudding Lane, missing since the great fire but rumoured to have been buried just before the conflagration by ‘Arry the Arsonist’, the man whose grandad was Fireraiser to the Queen and who famously lit up Archbishop Cramner. Anyway, the essence of it is our hero, Lex (played by Tommy Steele with a posh accent), is transported back through the centuries in search of the missing dictionary and meets and, naturally, breaks into song with all manner of historic notables, principal among them being Samuel Johnson (played by Hugh Bonneville) who proves a vicious adversary due to his loathing of slang and he and his mate, the debauched shagamuffin, James Boswell (played by Ryan Giggs) attempt to sabotage our hero’s efforts to find the dictionary. It’s here that they break into the show’s greatest number: ‘You’re fucked Lex, You’re fucked.’

    I hope the show comes to Manchester

    February 17, 2012 at 11:04

    I love it.

    February 17, 2012 at 13:48

    Worm: Slang: The Lanuage For Men, By Men and with a bunch of slappers, scrubbers, light housewives and Little Miss Roundheels in mind

    Malty, John H: More, more. Bring those ideas on. I pass the creative torch to you. But where’s my chorus of all-singing, all-dancing lexicographers? ‘We write about words / The job’s profoundly absurd…’

    February 18, 2012 at 14:24

    No slang perhaps, but some wonderful descriptions of the love object:-

    You light up my life
    You make me smile with my heart (from My Funny Valentine)
    You’re the tops
    You rock my world
    You are the sunshine of my life
    and so on.

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