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I have trouble with the idiom "no love lost". I understand that it is used when people are at odds or don't get along, but I don't understand why. Interpreted literally it sounds like there should be plenty of love, but it seems to mean the opposite.

Where does this expression come from? And is there a different interpretation that better explains its meaning?

9

Searching Google books, I find that what the phrase originally meant in the 17th and 18th centuries was that "A loves B just as much as B loves A"; the amount of love is balanced, so there is no love lost. In other words, unrequited love was considered to be "lost". This could be used to say they both love each other equally, or they both hate each other equally. The idiom has now come to mean only the second possibility.

From this 1754 English-Danish dictionary we have a translation:

ieg elsker dig ikke meere end du elsker mig
(literally: I love you no more than you love me)

(1712):

You must know, Sir, I love Prudence, my Lady Laycock's Woman, and I believe there's no Love lost between us, nor do I know how soon we may exchange our Persons for better and for worse.

(1645):

He hates the Council here, and I find plainly there is no love lost; they fear he will seize on the Prince, and he, that they will take him.

John Dryden (1712):

— By Bottle and by Butt I love thee. In witness whereof I drink soundly.
— Your Grace shall find there's no love lost. For I will pledge you soundly.

There's also a translation of the expression in a 1732 Irish-English dictionary, but I don't know Gaelic.

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If two people love each other, then fall out (because of an argument or other reason), then there was love lost between them. But if two people don't care much for each other, then have a falling out, then there really was no love lost between them.

Interestingly, when it was originated in the 1500s, until about 1800, it could indicate either extreme love or extreme hate.

Extreme love (the image is of love shared in a common vessel; when affection was mutual, none of the love in the vessel was lost):

  • Sore sicke he was, and like to dye,
    No helpe his life could save;
    His wife by him as sicke did lye,
    And both possest one grave.
    No love between these two was lost,
    Each was to other kinde;
    In love they liv'd, in love they dyed,
    And left two babes behinde." - Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 1765
    You can tell it's from some time ago; the two innocent children die in the woods!

Here, Manville, a gentleman, loves a peasants daughter, Em. Em speaks of him:

  • And never could I see a man, methought,
    That equaled Manville in my partial eye.
    Nor was there any love between us lost,
    But that I held the same in high regard, . - Faire Em, (a fraudulent Shakespeare) - Act V, Sc. I (1592)

Extreme ill-will

"There's no love lost," quote Sancho, "for she speaks ill of me too when she list." - Don Quixote. 1620 translation

Today, however, the term signifies ill will exclusively. If there is no love lost between two people, they have a strong enmity towards or hate for the other and make no effort to conceal it.

He needs her appearance of moral integrity, and she needs his iron to end all argument about her unity and purity. It is a marriage of convenience, a strained relationship, with no love lost between them. For both, the hope of world dominion is worth the tension.

  • 2
    The interpretation in your first paragraph is interesting. Do you have a citation for that or is it speculative? Also, how does that interpretation fit with the use of "no love lost" to indicate extreme love? – Robert Apr 6 '14 at 23:52
  • The basis for that interpretation (which is not speculative, I hope to assure you) is in the body of the answer. Perhaps if you click through the link, you will see something that supports my answer better than my answer itself. The idea of extreme loss is implied in that not a drop of love is lost from the vessel that holds their love. – anongoodnurse Apr 7 '14 at 0:14
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    Perhaps I'm dense but I've read through your answer and all three of your links several times and I can't find what you're referring to. There are numerous examples of use, but I still don't see where you got the interpretation in your first paragraph. – Robert Apr 7 '14 at 17:35
  • In How Do I Love Thee, the poet writes, I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach.... If the intended loved her to the same degree, then there is no love lost between them: all of it stays put. In another poem, the poet counts the ways she hates someone: Each corpuscle singing in its capillary hates you. If the object of her hatred felt the same way towards her, there would be much hatred between them, but no love, therefore none could be lost. – anongoodnurse Apr 7 '14 at 19:59
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An expanded version, "no love lost and no love found," probably makes it easier to understand the modern meaning of the phrase when looking at the literal interpretation.

  • That makes sense to me. Where did you find the expanded version? – Robert Apr 6 '14 at 23:53
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    @Robert: The closest match to this phrase that a Google Books search turns up is from a poem titled "XX" [as in "Twenty"] in _The Collected Poems of Henry Treece: "'Tis not the painted stick, the golden boy,/The figure cut in alabaster pays/Me for the bearing burden of a name:/These baubles sat my eyes like shiftless wench,/Heated my loin, but left it cold as stone,/And no love lost, and no love to be gained." – Sven Yargs Mar 1 '15 at 18:55
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I think it would mean "Don't assume that any love is missing just because the two parties hate each other... there was never any love there to begin with."

protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 18:24

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