Love is gender blind
The National Institute of the Korean Language recently updated the definition of the word “love.” Whereas it used to be described as “a passionate feeling of affection and attraction toward a person of the opposite sex,” it now reads “a passionate feeling of affection and attraction toward another person.”
The definitions of words like lover, relationship, couple and affection were also made more neutral. A couple is no longer defined as “a man and woman in a romantic relationship,” but rather, “two people in a romantic relationship.”
The institute explained that the updates were made to reflect the gradual embracing by Korean society of sexual minorities. They also came after a group of college students called for changes in the Standard Korean Dictionary, which generally uses words that limit romantic relationships to those occurring between opposite sexes.
While some support the institute’s decision, critics feel the issue required greater prudence. As the issue is sensitive and potentially relates to concepts such as same-sex marriage, it should not be determined by a few researchers, they argue.
In Korea, shoppers often find themselves at a department store or supermarket and find themselves greeted with signs bearing the words, “We love customers.” At every election campaign, we grow weary of hearing candidates say how much they love voters and the public. Used in this sense, the word is used merely as a means to temporarily lure consumers or voters. Others say middle-aged teachers can love their pre-teen students, even if they are of different sexes. Clearly, the word has many different shades of meaning - enough to fill an entire dictionary.
Webster’s English Dictionary defines love as “attraction based on sexual desire” and “affection and tenderness felt by lovers.” The Collins-Robert French Dictionary defines “amour” as “the feeling of sexual attraction to another person.” These concepts do not specify the gender of the involved individuals.
In this light, maybe we can see the Korean institute’s decision as an appropriate way of following the general trend of the times.
Just because the dictionary definition of love has changed, it does not mean the legal concept of marriage has been revised. In Korea, marriage is defined as a legal union between two persons of opposite genders. It is not up to a national institute to decide whether a same-sex union is sanctified by law. Such change would require a broader social consensus.
Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” If you love someone and give them your affection, it doesn’t matter what gender they belong to.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok