The Etymology of Passion

Updated on December 20, 2016

Kinky Passion

Passion has been cited as the motivation to many things. The owner of this car can be said to be 'passionate' about Kinky Friedman.
Passion has been cited as the motivation to many things. The owner of this car can be said to be 'passionate' about Kinky Friedman. | Source

The Origin of 'Passion'

You have heard the expression, “Time changes all things”. When it comes to language, over time many words have been altered by changing how they are used and applied. Although there have been changes in the accepted meanings of words, examining the origin of the word provides you with new insights.

The word ‘passion’ is one of those words where the modern application appears disconnected from the original meaning. The word itself comes from the Latin root word, patior, which means to suffer. It’s first use in English appeared around 1175 AD. Oddly enough the word is more frequently used in writing than in speech.

Many of the modern applications of ‘passion’ no longer convey the idea of suffering at all. It’s present use is one describing an intense desire, which is often sexual in nature. The modern use also defines passion as being an irrational force that is also irresistible. The older version did not identify whether the force compelling you to action was rational or irrational nor did it specify whether it could be resisted. The change in the meaning of the word has increased the power of ‘passion’ over its original definition.

The root word carried the idea that a passion was an external force that made you do something or in some way to suffer. The modern version of passion is unclear on whether the driving desire originates from inside you or if it is an outside force working on you.

The root of the word also contained applications where the word was used as an intense desire. The root word of passion expresses the idea of being moved to action where there is pain and suffering. It often has religious associations such as the “Passion of Christ” or the “Passion of the Christian martyrs”. On first glance the modern definition has little in common with the initial uses of the word. Although the modern use of passion seems disconnected from its roots, a closer look reveals more about how passion really works. Consider that passion is engaging in an intense desire to the point where it hurts. When you are truly passionate, you are pushed along by your desire to the point where you are willing to endure pain, suffering and loss for the object which is the focus of your attention.

The modern definition still carries the idea of the word describing a force which often forces you to do things. The force is often seen as being motivated by strong feelings of love or hate. This is narrower that the older version, where you talked about exciting the passions such as desire, fear, hope, grief, joy, love, or hatred. The wider range of emotions and drives in the older definition allowed it to cover more ground. The narrower modern version shows how the English language has lost some vibrancy and color in its words.

The original word ‘passion’ was used both as a noun and a verb, while the modern version of the word is limited to being a noun. The writer, William Shakespeare even used ‘passion’ as a verb in his writings. When was the last time you heard of passioning someone? In Shakespeare’s application as a verb, the term conveyed the idea of being extremely agitated. At least at that time you may be motivated to the point where you were agitated or in the words of Elvis Presley “All Shook Up”.

The word ‘passion’ has experienced some adjustments in how it is used. Some portions of its meaning have been expanded, while others have been constricted in the breath of emotions underlying what your passion is. As a word, it has been very useful, although the modern version is akin to comparing a Jumbo Jack to a prime cut of tenderloin. They are both meat and share a common origin, yet in eating the modern Jumbo Jack, a great deal has been lost.


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      Rev. John Werner 6 weeks ago

      I have been researching the word Compassion Robin Rex Meyers states that in early 1st Century Middle Eastern peoples thought passion was something that happened deep within the bowels of men and in the womb of women. Do you have any further insight into this? Here is the actual quote: In Hebrew as well as Aramaic the word usually translated as "compassion" (passion from the Latin word meaning, "to feel" and the prefix com, "with" is a quality of vicarious even visceral, empathy. This happens at the level 'beneath' the brain, in biblical terms, for a man in the bowels, for women in the womb- in other words, deep within."

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      peter adeyemu 2 years ago

      Informative and profound.

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      Admiral Murrah 5 years ago from Texas


      Thank you for your support and comment. It makes me happy that you enjoyed it. I hope that you and yours have a great weekend.

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      Lucy Jones 5 years ago from Scandinavia

      I'm passionate about your hub. Well written. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.