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Love according to Swedes. Part 1 – Love as a Physical object

Author: Per Boström, Umeå University, Sweden.

Love surrounds us, affects us, binds us and drives us crazy. Love is heaven. Love is hell. Love is pleasure. Love is pain. Love is, in search for a better word, a double-edged sword and has fascinated humankind for millennia. But one aspect that has remained unknown is how Swedes understand love. How does this, by reputation (and by natural causes) cold people, understand love and how do they talk about love? Better still, what kind of metaphors can be identified when Swedes talk about love?

In my dissertation thesis from 2018 (Boström, 2018) I investigate this in spoken conversations and find almost 800 metaphors where love is metaphorized as objects, journeys, containers, unities, forces, and (in small numbers) sicknesses, crimes, physical conflicts and games. In this first blog post, I will focus on metaphors for love and the loved one as an object (leaving you “cliffhanged” for the other concepts in future posts!).

But first some very important nuts and bolts. The starting point for my research is that cognition and language is embodied. The body and its features, and the way this body by means of its features, function in the world, is essential for our understanding of the world. In the embodied view, our body-mediated experiences give the blue print for the way we understand the world, especially abstract and challenging phenomena. For example, the abstract notion of time is often understood as money (“don’t waste my time”; “time bandits”, “spend your hours wisely!”), and what we do here is that we use concrete, physical experiences of physical money to understand different aspects of time. Likewise, as love (romantic love in this case) is abstract (Thank you, Captain Obvious!); we use a lot of metaphors in our understanding of it, also in Swedish!

Understanding and talking about love as an object, is the most common and recurring metaphorization found in the conversations. One woman talk about how the love she has is something that she owns and is free to give to whomever she chooses, also stating that “my love is enough for many people, why not give it then!?” (in Swedish the verbatim meaning is that she has “a lot of love” (as a quantity or mass)). Another woman talks about how she owns the love together with her partner, and at the same time owns her partner. Furthermore, one can “dump” one’s partner or throw away “the love”: just like a used object. Not very nice!

Another interesting finding is that love is understood as a living object, a living organism. In this metaphorization, love can grow or die but can also require nurturing in order to survive and thrive. Some of the participants also talk about love as something that is made up of pieces or parts where these can operate/function more or less without maintenance, just like a well-oiled machine!

So, how do you think about love? Is love an object that you can throw away? Is your partner an object that you own, and that can be replaced (when broken?), or dumped? Some Swedes seem to understand love like this. So if you meet a Swede that wants to give you some love (not a everyday experience in Sweden…), just smile and say thank you!

While you now might have started thinking about your partner as a car and with the highest of expectations wait for the next part of the key to Swedish Love, I give the blog torch to Lacey Okonski, Umeå University!


Boström, P. (2018). "Det här är ju dött tåg liksom…" ("This is like a dead train"): a study of metaphors for ROMANTIC LOVE in spoken Swedish [Dissertation, Umeå University].

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