St. John tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and this is also where C.S. Lewis begins his book The Four Loves. Very quickly, he is not satisfied with one word for love and so gives names to different types of loves, similar to Adam naming the animals. While in English, the single word “love” is used to describe feelings toward bagels, dogs, people, and Fridays alike, other languages offer multiple words for love.
The Greeks have four words for love, which Lewis uses in his book: eros, agape, philia, and storgé. American Sign Language has two signs for love: one for the love of actions or objects and one for the love of living beings. Tamil, the language of Sri Lanka, two states in India, and one of the official languages of Singapore, has dozens of words for love. Arabic has at least eleven. The Gaelic language, like the Greek, also has four words to distinguish between different types of love: an all-purpose word (grá); an affectionate form, such as for children (cion); romantic love (searc); and companionship (cumann).
Even with languages that use multiple words for love, I wonder if these are adequate to describe the particularities of love. I have a specific kind of love in mind that seems especially difficult to name: the love of a teacher for her students. For me, back-to-school season conjures images of new notebooks, fresh pencils (soon to be lost, alas), nametags, and rosters of new students to know and love and with whom to learn. The moment I see their names on my list and begin practicing saying their lovely names, I love them. As I imagine who they will be and what we will discover together, I already love them. As I wait for them on the morning of the first day (or even see the early-birds who wait outside in the pre-dawn light to be let in), I am filled with a deep and true love for them.