The Grammarphobia Blog

Lurve affair

Q: One of the participants at the Daily Beast’s recent “Reboot America!” conference was reported as saying the US needed “innovation and luurve.” I’ve never seen “luurve” and can’t find it in my dictionary. Is this a typo?

A: You won’t find this word in standard dictionaries, but it’s not a typo. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as a chiefly British colloquial term for “love.”

The OED’s entry for this noun spells it “lurve,” but it gives “lerv,” “lurv,” “lurrve,” and “luurve” as other spellings.

The dictionary defines the word this way: “Romantic infatuation; sex; love. Freq. when regarded as being treated (esp. in films, pop music, fiction, etc.) in a hackneyed or clichéd manner.”

The OED says the term represents “an emphatic, humorous, or arch pronunciation” of the word “love.”

It adds that the pronunciation sometimes parodies “the slow, smooth, crooning” of “love” in popular songs, and may reflect “British perceptions of the U.S. pronunciation” of the word.

The earliest citation for the noun is from a 1936 issue of the Daily Mirror that describes a situation in which “(a) you’re in Lurve, but (b) you’re not sure he’s in Lurve with you.”

However, the OED has an entry for an older verb, with even more spellings, including some with the “u” or “r” occurring four or more times.

The first citation for the verb is from The War in the Air, a 1908 novel by H. G. Wells: “I am pleading the cause of a woman, a woman I lurve.”

Here’s an example of a three-“u” version from a 1989 issue of the British magazine Q: “I luuurve that jacket, Bobby!”

And here’s a three-“r” version from Helen Fielding’s 1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary: “I kept saying the words, ‘Self-respect’ and ‘Hug’ over and over till I was dizzy, trying to barrage out, ‘But I lurrrve him.’ ”

Although the word in its various guises is mainly seen in Britain, it’s not unknown in the US as you’ve noticed.

And the usage may survive—in whole or in part—when a British book crosses the Atlantic.

For example, Luuurve Is a Many Trousered Thing, a book for teens by the British writer Louise Rennison, arrived in the US with the title Love Is a Many Trousered Thing.

But Rennison’s labor of “luuurve” wasn’t entirely lost. The word appears throughout the text of the American edition.  

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