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What’s in a Name? Love By Any Other Word is Still as Sweet

While the feeling of love and romance is something that is impossible to describe, Japanese has a lot of words that try to capture its essence.

By 3 min read

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and many of us will likely be thinking about romance. For many Valentine’s Day is the ideal time of the year to consider your relationship. Thankfully, when you want to explain this to your significant other, Japanese is a language full of words for just about every emotional state. Regardless of where you are at or where you might be going, Japanese has a word specifically for it.

When you first set eyes on that beautiful person, you may feel a little bit of the Japanese term がある. Although this word is typically used to describe an interest in an activity, it can also connote the romantic meaning of attraction, as in the sentence: “あのおんなに気があるの?” (“Do you fancy that woman over there?”)

Of course, anyone raised on the lovey-dovey romances of 少女漫画しょうじょまんが (girls’ manga) will be familiar with the idea that this first feeling of attraction may very well be 一目惚ひとめぼれ, or love at first sight. For language learners (even the most unromantic ones) the term 一目惚れ is especially interesting as the second part of it includes the relatively uncommon verb れる (here changed to ぼれ to make it easier to say). 惚れる is a verb that describes losing your heart to someone.

Naturally, ほれる is not the only verb that tries to describe the process of falling for someone. One of the more interesting — albeit less romantic — terms for this feeling is かれる (to be attracted to), which means to be charmed by somebody. On the internet, you will also sometimes see the other かれる (to be drawn to) being used in a similar way. As this verb is taken from the verb 引く (to pull something) this creates a vivid image of the way attractive people can “pull” people into their orbit.

While referring to marriage as the “goal” may sound strange, it’s very common to find this term in magazines aimed at young people.

As your lover’s charms entice you, the word for your relationship may change to 馴れめ which marks the change from “just dating” to the beginnings of love. You may even find yourself う a word closest to the idea of “going steady.” If you really have it bad, you may even hear 彼氏かれし or 彼女かのじょ 一筋ひとすじ (only having eyes for my boyfriend or girlfriend). Unsurprisingly, this term is most often found in manga, especially the aforementioned 少女漫画.

As your relationship progresses, you may find that you are starting to think about a 婚約こんやく (engagement) and 結婚けっこん (marriage). While these processes aren’t so different from ones in the West, in more traditional relationships, you may be called upon to do a dreaded 縁談えんだん. This terrifying process involves a formal meeting before marriage between the two families to discuss the terms of the union.

If these terms sound a little too formal, Japanese has plenty of casual alternatives. My favorite colloquialism for marriage is ゴールイン(する), a term originally taken from reaching the ゴール in sports — in other words: crossing the finish line.

While referring to marriage as the “goal” may sound strange, it’s very common to find this term in magazines aimed at young people. Recently, the rumors swirling around about the soon-to-be-announced engagement of the U.K.’s Prince Harry to erstwhile actress Meghan Markle were written up in the Japanese edition of Cosmopolitan magazine as: “自由奔放じゆうほんぽうなヘンリー王子おうじ、メーガン・マークルとは ゴールインするのか!” (“… the free-spirited Prince Henry will perhaps get engaged with Meghan Markle.”)

While Japanese may not feel like a particularly romantic language at some times, it can be surprisingly expressive when it comes to accurately describing every stage of a relationship from its early stages to marriage. In this romantic month, regardless of whether you have someone that you feel 気がある for or are looking forward to ゴールインする with that special lady or gent, you’re sure to find a Japanese word to definitively express exactly where you are at or what you feel!

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