Modern Ways To Express Your Love And Affection

The language of love

Ah, love, l'amour, Liebe, ahava …

It's one of the most important human emotions. And for every way we feel love, there's a word or phrase that tries to express it. We say "tries" because there's a reason love has inspired countless works of art—from poetry to oil paintings to rap songs. It's really hard to describe.

Maybe that's why we humble humans have come up with so much colorful language to express the way we feel. Every culture (or sub-culture) has its own loving expressions, nicknames, and codes. We've rounded up a few that we find particularly pleasing.

Read on to learn some creative ways to show the people in your life you care about them. ❤️

I love you to the moon and back

Sometimes we love someone so much that it seems to be out of this world. That's where the expression I love you to the moon and back can come in handy—for romantic, platonic, and familial love.

The phrase, which uses the celestial distance to heighten and dramatize the extent of love, may have been boosted by space exploration and the moon landing in the 1960s. An official NASA document, for instance, used the phrase to the moon and back when describing a program in 1969, and the specific phrase has a smattering of instances across the decades prior.

Whatever its precise origins, the saying spread in the 1990–2000s, as evidenced by its use in popular culture. In 1992, the band Spectrum released a song titled “(I Love You) To the Moon and Back.” The theme of a parent’s love for their child is also reflected in the 1994 picture book Guess How Much I Love You? In the book, a small hare tells his father “I love you right up to the moon,” and the father replies “I love you right up to the moon – and back.”

As if the moon wasn't far enough away there's also the variant is I love you to the stars and back. Some users will further intensify the phrase by swapping out moon for celestial bodies even further away (e.g., I love you to Alpha Centauri and back—that's a big love).

Planetary bodies also figure in our next favorite expression …

mean the world to me

Another way that people show just how much they care about someone (or something) is to say it means the world to them. This idiomatic expression is over 100 years old!

The expression mean the world came into use at least by the 20th century as an emphatic way for a speaker or writer to convey how much they care about someone or something—their feelings, as the phrase implies, are as big as the entire planet, as if encompassing everything.

A variant of this expression, to be all the world (to someone), appears in a 1916 story in Watson’s Magazine where a desperate suitor tries to woo a young woman: “I love you, little maid. You are all the world to me!” The phrase all the world, for “the whole or earth or the universe,” dates back to Old English.

The phrase is especially used in the construction you mean the world to me to express deep romantic love, commonly appearing in greeting cards.

hugs and kisses or XOXO

One of the ways humans show affection, besides buying flowers, giving foot rubs, and making favorite meals, is through the classic hugs and kisses. In fact, these actions are so common that hugs and kisses has become a phrase to express affection in its own right.

The two words have been paired as a set phrase for affection since at least the 1700s. While the expression often literally signifies PDA between family members or romantic partners, hugs and kisses became common enough to stand-in for fond and compassionate feelings in general by the late 1900s.

This may be due to the fact that hugs and kisses is a familiar sign-off, seen in the signature of a birthday card from a grandmother to a goodbye said by a parent on the phone. When this practice emerged isn’t exactly clear, but it is surely influenced by its symbolic shorthand XOXO and its variants.

The letter X represents “kiss,” evidenced in letters since the 1760s though potentially dating back to Christian customs in the Middle Ages. The letter O, or “hug,” is more obscure and not firmly found until the 1960s. Technically, this means XOXO stands for kisses and hugs, a less frequent variant for the more rhythmic hugs and kisses.

If the classic hugs and kisses or XOXO doesn’t suit you, you might want to try …

143

143 is code for I love you, especially used on pagers back in the 1990s.

The shorthand, as the story goes, dates back to the early 1900s from Minot’s Ledge lighthouse off the coast of Cohasset, Massachusetts. The story actually begins in 1895, when the lighthouse changed its flash pattern after a recommendation that all lighthouses have numerical flash sequences. The order, one quick flash, four flashes, then three flashes, was apparently chosen at random.

In 1915, a new assistant lighthouse keeper, Winfield Scott Thompson, came to Minot’s Ledge lighthouse. His family lived on a neighboring island and could see the flash of the lighthouse at night. According to legend, Mary Thompson, Winfield’s wife, told their children that it was the I Love You flash, their father’s way of telling them how much he loved them from across the water. Each flash corresponded to the number of letters in each word of the phrase: I love you. This tale proved popular, so much so that Minot’s Ledge lighthouse is nicknamed the I Love You lighthouse. Awww.

Whether from the lighthouse or formed independently later in the century, the 143 code endured. Pagers were popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The devices had limited space for messages and not all supported text. As a workaround, people used codes like 411 for information or 911 to symbolize emergency and 143 for I love you143 was also used in the early days of internet chatrooms and text-messaging.

heart symbol <3

Before Unicode characters, especially emoji, were widely available on phone keyboards and the internet, users combined the mathematical less-than sign, <, and the numeral 3 to depict the heart symbol, oriented on its side.

The <3 symbol joins other emoticons, like the smiley :), as a popular way to convey emotion and mark tone in early email, text messaging, instant messaging, and online forums beginning in the 1980s.

Once Unicode 6.0 supported emoji in 2010, people widely began using the red heart emoji  (❤️) or any of its expressive variants instead of the <3. But sometimes it's endearing to go old-school, and we can't help telling the people in our lives we care about that we "less than 3" them … even if they find it confusing.

Valentine's Day emoji

OK, you got us. There is no literal Valentine's Day emoji, but there are a huge number of lovey-dovey emoji, including ones depicting hearts, flowers, gestures like kisses and hand-holding, and chocolate.

Despite both widespread popularity (and hatred), there hasn’t ever been Valentine’s Day-specific emoji to date. This is probably because what could be a Valentine’s Day emoji also works for expressions of love year-round. The bouquet 💐, chocolate bar 🍫, love letter 💌, or red heart ❤ emoji work well on Valentine’s Day, but also on anniversaries, birthdays, special occasions, and “just-because” moments. Perhaps, the emoji most distinctive to Valentine’s Day, though, is heart with arrow 💘, which makes everyone think of the holiday’s icon, Cupid.

There are over 25 emoji that are heart-shaped or depict hearts so if the emoji listed above don't fit your fancy, you have choices.

If you're specifically celebrating coupledom or lovey-dovey times with your partner though, there are more emoji for that too. Whether you’re holding hands 👬, kissing 👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩, or just hanging out with feelings 💑 (couple with heart), emoji have you covered.

Maybe, though, a pictogram isn't going to cut it. After all, someone you love deserves an adorable appellate or nickname. We've got a few suggestions for you …

boo | bae

Hey, boo. Hey, bae. Try each of these on for size to see which one suits you (and the object of your affection) best. They mean slightly different things, but they all have one thing in common: they express how much you care.

Boo means a few different things, but it's generally used for a romantic partner (e.g., my boo or “sweetheart”). Maybe a form of baby or the French beau(x), the pet boo, used much like bae, emerges in 1990s hip-hop slang and spread from there.

A notable early use of this boo comes in the lyrics of hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 song “Go Ahead in the Rain”: “Lifeless ventures ain’t new, boo.”  The same year, rapper Grand Daddy I.U. spit the line, “Yo, boo, I like you, but I like others too.”

Bae is also often in rap lyrics. Bae emerged in Black slang in the early 2000s, appearing in hip-hop and rap lyrics in 2005 before spreading into mainstream slang in the 2010s. It appears to be a Black English shortening or pronunciation of babe or baby as terms of endearment, though a popular folk etymology spread in the early 2010s claimed bae is a backronym for “before anyone else.” Aww.

Of course, not all expressions of affection are in English …

mamí | papí | habibi | yaar

For as many languages as there are in the world, there are nicknames people use for the ones they love.

In Spanish, there's mamí and papí, to name two of the most common ones. Mamí is a Spanish slang term variously used to refer to an attractive woman, female romantic partner, or close female friend. Similarly, papí is a Spanish colloquialism for “daddy,” extended as a general term of endearment like “buddy” for a friend or “my man” for a romantic partner.

In Arabic, there's habibi, an Arabic word that literally means “my love” (sometimes also translated as “my dear,” “my darling,” or “beloved”). It is used primarily as a pet name for friends, significant others, or family members. Habibi is frequently used in songs to give them a romantic feel, and usually both men and women are habibi in music.

In Hindi, you get yaar, an informal Indian English term for a friend. There are multiple ways to use the word, and it can be used to refer to a lover, especially in Bollywood. If you have a yaar, then you’ve found yaari  (friendship). This can be a common friendship or have a more romantic connotation. Yaar has been particularly associated with certain tropes in Bollywood since the 1970s.

Speaking of foreign languages, sometimes you might want to tell someone you love them in a language besides English, to make it a little more special. Take, for example …

te amo

Te amo means “I love you” in Spanish and Portuguese—a two-for-one there, you aspiring papi chulo, you.

For word nerds, te is the second person singular or familiar form of “you” and amo is “I love.” The expression is ancient—we can find te amo in the parent of Spanish and Portuguese, Latin.

In modern Spanish and Portuguese, te amo most often expresses love for a romantic partner, family, and even very near and dear friends. Sometimes it is said with the word yo, “I,” which is already implied in amo, but is added for emphasis, as in yo te amo.

Te amo is generally reserved for more romantic or intense feelings of love, as said between partners or close family members.

Te quiero, literally “I want you” but with the sense of “I care about you,” can express more casual affection for friends, someone you’re dating, or more distant relations.  

But maybe expressing your love in this way is too sincere. In that case, you might want to go with our next expression which is way more irreverent

glomp

A glomp is a lunging, enthusiastic, over-the-top, and potentially dangerous hug that often begins with a running start, like a tackle. It can be used as a verb or internet comment for giving someone such a greeting.

Glomping was a trope in comics and animation long before it was called glomping. For example, in the 1980–90s strip Calvin and Hobbes, Hobbes often glomps Calvin when he returns home from school.

In real life, you might consider other ways to show your affection rather than glomping. Anime voice actor Greg Ayres is said to have once been glomped by a fan at the top of a flight of stairs while attending a convention, causing both glomper and glompee to plummet down the stairway. This seems to be why many conventions ban glomping.

However you express your affection, we hope you eventually find your …

happily ever after

Happily ever after is recorded by the early 1700s, but by the 1860s it had become commonly associated with fairy tale and children’s stories. It especially appears in they lived happily ever after—making sure all the princes married their princesses in their castles and enjoyed the rest of their days. By the 1880s, we can already find authors calling happily after ever out as BS.

What, exactly, cemented this connection isn’t clear, as the historic sources of fairy tales don’t feature happily ever after. Nevertheless, the connection was sealed by the 20th century. Not only have countless stories closed with (happily) ever after, but the phrase itself has come to represent fairy tales and happy endings—and marriages, where happily ever after is the storybook ending we’re told to dream of.

Ever after has become so common that we can use it like a noun (e.g., we’re all searching for our ever after or he finally found his ever after).

We hope you find your happily ever after … or at least avoid being forever alone.

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