Rabbi Benjamin Blech: Does the Word “Love” Still Mean Anything?

Are you in love?

Millions of people will take advantage of Valentine’s Day to affirm their strong feeling of affection with the three words “I love you.” That statement has been called the most beautiful phrase in the English language.

Love after all supposedly signifies the strongest bond possible between two people. Love is nothing less, as the Zohar puts it, than “the secret of divine unity.”

What troubles me though is that in our day, the word love seems to have lost its meaning, suffering from what I call verbal inflation.

We all know what inflation can do to money. If the government prints too much of it, that reduces the value of all the currency already in circulation. Verbal inflation is what happens when we use words that start out having considerable value for cheap imitations. Before long, million-dollar words can no longer be taken seriously. They identify every worthless item as a priceless heirloom. They allow junk to masquerade as jewels and trivia to be confused with treasure.

Stan Carey of Macmillan Dictionary publishers recently complained about how much language inflation ultimately creates devaluation in meaning. To call someone brilliant today is merely to suggest that he is somewhat clever. To proclaim a film a masterpiece is to allow that one can sit through it without too much fidgeting. Everyone with some talent is hailed as a “genius” (and anyone funny becomes a “comic genius”),

Carey explains, “Such is our need to imbue our words with force and significance, that we use hyperbole to entice people to pay attention – and the hyperbolic terms gradually normalize.”

C.S. Lewis wisely warned against language inflation: “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise, you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” Read the full article at Aish.com

Rabbi Benjamin Blech is Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and the Rabbi Emeritus of Young Israel of Oceanside. He is the author of 12 highly acclaimed books, including Understanding Judaism: The basics of Deed and Creed, If God is Good, Why is the World So Bad? and the international best-seller The Sistine Secrets. The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to Yeshiva University.