I was interested in comparing the historical significances of two somewhat related terms: Love and sex. According to the OED, love–“a feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone”–is a word as old as the English language itself. While “sex” obviously has many definitions, I was interested in the one most related to the word “love”: “Physical contact between individuals involving sexual stimulation; sexual activity or behaviour, spec. sexual intercourse, copulation. to have sex (with) : to engage in sexual intercourse (with).” Used in this particular way, “sex” is only about a hundred or so years old–a fact which was pretty surprising. While one word refers to people’s emotions, the other refers to a physical act. I was interested in seeing how these terms intersect (if they even do) in more contemporary literature.
Using Ngram, I found that “love” has been used much more frequently than “sex.” However, though there has not been any intersection of the terms to date, “love” is on the decline, and “sex” is on the rise. The use of “sex” was pretty consistent until about 1920 possibly due to the cultural edge of the Roaring Twenties. Around the time that this particular usage of “sex” cropped up (around 1900), the term “love” began its gradual fall. This makes me wonder: What terms were people using to refer to the act of sexual intercourse before 1900? Were those terms mainly euphemistic? Were people using “love” as a substitute? How often were these words interchangeably used?
I predicted that “sex” would be on the rise, but the downfall of “love” sheds a new light on this issue. Does this mean that society is more sex-crazed than ever before, or that we are starting to value hook-up culture more than actual romantic relationships? I don’t think that the rise of “sex” is a bad thing at all, but I am a little concerned about the degeneration of “love.”
Overall, I think the OED was more helpful in giving me specific information regarding the history of words. Also, Ngram could not detect which definition of the word “sex” or “love” I was referring to. However, the graph that Ngram provided gave me a clear picture of where these terms are headed. I think that these tools, when used in conjunction, can give us a lot of insight into how and why our language is perpetually shifting.