Saturday, February 16, 2002

Less etymology, more romance

VALENTINE'S Day started in the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14 was a holiday to honour Juno. Juno was the Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15, began the Feast of Lupercalia. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia, the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and the couple would then be partners for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and get married later.

Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. He believed this was because Roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. The good Saint Valentine was a priest at Rome in the days of Claudius II. He and Saint Marius aided the Christian martyrs and secretly married couples, and for this, Saint Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be first beaten to death with clubs, then, to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, about the year 270. This gave a name to the day, a name with a romantic tale attached!

Random tales"
February 2, 2002
History and meaning
January 19, 2002
Psychiatry and Greek
January 5, 2002
Classic loans
December 22, 2001
Elected words
December 8, 2001
The Italian connection
November 24, 2001
Words in writing
November 10, 2001
October 27, 2001
The pickings of war
October 13, 2001
American English
September 29, 2001
September 15, 2001
Foreigners, come to stay
September 1, 2001

Word clusters
August 18, 2001

The pastors of the early Christian Church in Rome endeavoured to do away with the pagan element in these feasts by substituting the names of saints for those of maidens. And as the Lupercalia began about the middle of February, the pastors appear to have chosen Saint Valentine’s Day for the celebration of this new feast. With the mingling of tradition past and present, the custom of young men choosing maidens for valentines originated.

How did Valentine’s Day come to bring with it flowers, love-notes and other gifts? The legend says that when Saint Valentine was in prison, many young people came to the jail to visit him. They threw flowers and notes up to his window. They wanted him to know that they, too, believed in love.

One of these young people was the daughter of the prison guard. Her father allowed her to visit Valentine in the cell. Sometimes, they would sit and talk for hours. She helped to keep his spirits up. She agreed that he had done the right thing by ignoring the Emperor and going ahead with the secret marriages. On the day he was to die, he left his friend a little note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. It was signed, "Love from your Valentine." That note started the custom of exchanging love messages on Valentine’s Day. It was written on the day Valentine died, February 14, 269 A.D.


Love is an instance of how a loanword shrinks in meaning when other words exist in the language to give the other shades of meaning. In Hindi, love is used only in the context of amorous love, whereas in English, love is used for a whole spectrum of allied emotions. This could be due to the existence of Hindi words like prem, sneh, preeti, anuraag, pranaya and vaatsalaya.