Languages change. Words and their meanings flow and shift, fading in and out of use. This dance of definition is one which I try hard to accept and follow. I attempt to dance along with the ever changing language and have tried my best to keep in step. One step, however, with which I refuse to accompany language, is with regards to the word romantic.
The purpose of language is to communicate. Every word has a distinct and important meaning. Every word communicates a certain idea, and there is no true replacement. The word “Romantic” has undergone a change that leaves my vocabulary wanting.
When someone uses the word romantic, the meaning is generally clear. The World English Dictionary defines romantic as
“Evoking or giving thoughts and feelings of love, esp idealized or sentimental love”
The pride and joy of my desk, the Oxford English Dictionary has, of course, about thirty different definitions for romantic, but one captures the essence of the word.
“Characterized by the subordination of form to theme, and by imagination and passion.”
Now before we go further, maybe it is important to see what the OED defines romance as.
“Romantic or imaginative character or quality; redolence or suggestion of, association with, the adventurous and chivalrous”
There is a clear difference here. One definition limits romance to strictly what has to do with sentimental love, while the other defines romance as what appeals to emotion, passion, chivalry and adventure. While the love-struck couple, sacrificing for each other in acts of love is romantic, so is the bold warrior, standing before a looming host of villainous foes. Romance is larger than what the first definition declares. The first definition is, frankly, not needed. The second definition, however, has no equal. I have not yet found an acceptable substitute in the English language. I would invite the reader to enlighten me here if I am wrong, but I believe the choice is clear. For the first definition, instead of romantic, I would suggest we use the word amorous.
“Affected with love toward one of the opposite sex: in love, enamored, fond”
While the goal of making our vocabulary streamlined is most desirable, I believe there is another reason to accept this clarification. To declare that romance is limited to amorousness is a dangerous declaration. By accepting this term as valid we declare that emotion is limited to whatever is conducive to amorous love. As a society, we have condensed the wide range of the human heart to simply whatever you can get in the context of amorous interaction. So focused are we on the emotion of amorous love that we cannot tolerate any other. We have dismissed the value of the vengeful rage of Fingolfin in favor of the passionate songs of Beren and Lúthien.
As a result of this dread exchange, even the amorous definition of romance has lost its meaning. Romance has become something that evokes feelings of sentimental love. The difference here is rather striking. The true romantic event gives the subject emotions toward that object because of its value. The amorous definition of romance simply sets the stage for the romance of a different object. When I describe something as romantic, according to the amorous definition, it is nothing more than whatever makes a situation conducive to amorous love. Romance has become merely wall hangings and roses that set a mood rather than the powerful emotion of its glorious past. Because it has been separated from all of its sibling emotions, amorous love has become simply a superficial manipulation of the mind.
There is but one option left to us. In order to redeem the romantic, we must reclaim this word’s meaning. Cast off the shackling definition of romance and boldly throw amorous love back to its brother and sister emotions. By rejoining these passionate members, we can redeem the word. We must take aggressive action, to fulfill our vocabulary, save amorous love, and resurrect emotion. We must change our vocabulary so we can bear our hearts. We must be romantics.