I was thinking about David’s quest to define love and the endless amount of methods you could employ to make progress in the project. We’ve heard Emerson tell us that life is the journey and not its destination. Well, I would venture to say that you can apply such a perspective to just about any endeavor in human knowledge as well. With that said, I figured I would try to contribute to this journey to find the definition of love by looking at the word “love” somewhat philologically and in the tradition I am most familiar with, Arabic.
disclaimer: This is geared toward a non-Arabic-speaking audience, which means I will be using familiar English letters and concepts to communicate ideas that, in expressing them in English, loses some accuracy in the details, but is nevertheless useful for the journey.
As a Semitic language, Arabic is majorly made up of three-letter roots and various patterns. The patterns determine primarily the word’s syntax (whether it’s an adjective, noun, verb, etc.), and combined with the root, creates meaning. You can imagine a language that has been around for centuries will naturally change, but today you can still identify relationships between words of the same root. For example, take the root k-t-b. Kitab is book, kataba is writing, maktaba is library, and so on. We can see the relationship among words with the k-t-b root having to do with writing.
We can also gather meaning from these relationships as to how these words were understood as the language developed. To see where I am getting at, let’s take the root s-d-q. Sadaqa means friendship and sadiq means friend. Sidq means trust. Here we can determine that, philologically, trust is a fundamental component of the understanding of friendship. So, to help my sadiq David with the quest, I thought it might be interesting to look at the meanings surrounding the word for love: hubb.
The root for hubb is h-b-b. Many non-Arabic speakers recognize the word habibi, meaning my dear or my beloved (habib is the word; the i at the end indicates first-person possession: my dear). The verb habba is to love, hubbi is friendly or amicable. But we see other meanings too that may not be as expected. Habab is an aim or goal. Tahabub can mean mutual love, but also harmony. Mahbub can be like habib (dear, beloved) but also desirable, popular, favorite. What catches my attention the most is word habb meaning seed. We can write the relationship between love and seed off as a result of linguistic evolution creating divergent meanings. Or, we can look at a possible connection and ask ourselves what the two have in common. They are written the same (حبّ), just pronounced differently. Perhaps love is partially defined by a seed’s capacity to grow, to spread or begin new life. The possibilities. Maybe love is small, like a seed, and not visible until it flowers above the surface; yet in order to do so, it needs proper care and conditions. And perhaps when we feel that our love is dead, it is simply waiting underground until the next season.