Fancy Etymologies :: Passion
Passion : n. Senses relating to physical suffering and pain.
Rare is the word that has two almost contradictory definitions. Passion is one such word: the first definitions offered in the Oxford English Dictionary concern themselves primarily with intense pain, particularly as suffered by Jesus during his last days. As you look down the long list of definitions, you eventually see a departure from the Jesus-related definitions to simply, “A suffering or affliction of any kind.” Finally, with the second set of definitions, we see definitions that are a little more familiar, starting with “Senses relating to emotional or mental states.”
Interestingly, two definitions side by side seem to be almost opposites: “An outburst of anger or rage…violently angry” immediately precedes “Strong affection; love.” The key to these definitions is an extreme, often overwhelming emotion.
A look at the history of the word passion gives some insight into this strange dichotomy. Passion comes from the Latin “subfero.” “Sub” means under, as you probably know, and “fero” means to bear, or to carry. The sense of this word is clearly that of sustaining burdens, whether they be those of intense physical pain or intense emotional pain.
If you indulge yourself in a little philosophical flight of fancy, you'll find yourself coming up with clichéd but nonetheless accurate phrases like, “Hate and love are two sides of the same coin!” You'll also remember all those poems and stories you've read about love being painful, and physical metaphors to describe the suffering of lovers. I hope that the analysis of this word will help you see the connections between these seemingly disparate but nevertheless related senses that can all be described as passion.
My Fancy Etymologies are based on definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary. Special thanks this week to Colin Angevine for his consultation.