Susie Dent Top Ten

Susie Dent’s Top Tens: 10 words from the language of romance

Be still, our beating heart - Susie Dent returns this week with ten underused words for the romantics amongst us.

Finally, it actually feels like spring. Wintry torpor is on its way out, and buds are erumpent all around. This season is, of course, poetically named for its advent of growth and new beginnings, including burgeoning romance. Here are ten words that may come in useful when it comes to expressing feelings of love (and, inevitably, their opposite).


For humans, too, this season brings renewed vigour and energy. So much so that, for some, it might inspire an episode of vernalagnia. Put simply, vernalagnia describes the awakening of romantic feelings or sexual desire brought on by spring. In other words, this is ‘spring fever’.


Should your vernalagnia find a willing participant, then you might be lucky enough to experience ‘limerence’, the state of infatuation/obsession that characterizes the first flushes of romance.

READ MORE: Susie Dent’s Top Tens: 10 words for book lovers

fandango de pokum

Love Islanders might call this ‘dusting’, but surely one of the best euphemisms for sex comes unexpectedly from the Victorians, who gave us not only ‘firkytoodling’ for a little bit of flirting and foreplay but also the glorious ‘fandango de pokum’.


Of course, for many of us things don’t go to plan when it comes to love, which is where ‘sphallolalia’ might come in handy. In essence, this is flirtation that ends up going absolutely nowhere.

cavoli riscaldati

It might be an idea then to look to rekindle an old romance in the naïve expectation that all the problems that made it fizzle have somehow magically disappeared. The Italians know this vain attempt at restarting a relationship as ‘cavoli riscaldati’, ‘reheated cabbage’ – which is never a good idea.

reheated cabbage

Cook it once, a meal for two; cook it twice, cavoli riscaldati for you (credit: Getty Images)


The lucky ones amongst us might spot a particular radiance in their partner’s eyes that comes only from true love. In the early 19th century, this was known rather beautifully as ‘lovelight’.


A glimmer of lovelight might well inspire basorexia: a clunky invention that is nonetheless useful, for it describes the sudden and overwhelming desire to kiss someone.

READ MORE: Susie Dent’s Top Tens: 10 words and phrases with surprisingly literal beginnings


If the recipient of the kiss isn’t quite as up for it as you, however, then the now well-trodden ‘Ick factor’ comes into play. The ickee is of course the person who feels it most keenly.

vena amoris

If you like it, you shoulda put a ring on it, apparently. The Romans, who donated us the word ‘romance’ after all, believed that the ring finger had a vein running through it that was connected directly to the heart. This was the vena amoris, the ‘vein of love’.

Roman centurion

Who knew the Romans were such flirts (credit: Getty Images)

join giblets

If you do choose to honour the vein of love by getting hitched, then, for better or worse, you could do worse than employ a 19th-century term for just that: ‘joining giblets’.  Which probably brings us right back to ‘vernalagnia’.

1 Comment

  • philip.talbot says:

    Thanks Susie. ‘Lovelight’ reminds me of Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’, while ‘limerence’ sounds a bit tame for that stomach-lurch feeling (as far as I can remember…). Great to learn these though, thank you as ever.

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