Thursday, February 14, 2013


A novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, romantic exploits, etc., usually in a historical or imaginary setting.

The colorful world, life, or conditions depicted in such tales.

A baseless, made-up story, usually full of exaggeration or fanciful invention.

Fanciful, impractical, unrealistic.

Imbued with or dominated by idealism, a desire for adventure, chivalry, etc.

Characterized by a preoccupation with love or by the idealizing of love or one's beloved.

What do you think of when you hear "romance" or "romantic"?

A traditionally beautiful couple in traditionally beautiful clothes in a traditionally beautiful setting (a balcony, a clean and tourist-free beach, beneath the Eiffel Tower). There are probably candles and flowers and champagne or wine, all of which is being ignored by the couple in favor of exchanging deep, sensuous looks and kisses and overwrought lines about each other's beauty.

Which is totally unrealistic, unless you're one of the dozen young, beautiful billionaires in the world, am I right?

Not if you're this guy, it's not. This is Don Quixote. (And his faithful servant, Sancho Panza... and a windmill.)

The definitions at the top of this post define Don Quixote to a T. He's delusional about everything because he is so blinded by his idealistic view of the object of his affections, Dulcinea (who is not actually Dulcinea, but just a farm girl who is completely unaware of the entire situation).

Don Quixote is the perfect example of textbook-definition romance. A crazy guy fighting chivalrously for the idea of his perfect woman, which he projects onto an unsuspecting young lady.

I promise I'm not trying to sound cynical, though! Let's take a different approach...

A roman is a novel. (A Roman is a person from Rome.) The words "romance" and "romantic" come from this word, meaning that they were intended to describe fictional, fantastical, unrealistic situations and experiences. "Romance," by definition, is not supposed to be something we run across in the real world. Of course, being human, we want what we can't have, so it's also something we expend a lot of effort trying to attain.

(The word "roman" also refers to a type of print - opposed to italic - and it's the root for "romance" referring to the type of language, like French or Spanish, as well. Etymology!)

Don Quixote is considered the first novel (and by many, the best work of literature ever written), so it makes sense that we derive our meaning of "romance" from Don Quixote's behaviors. His is the quintessential novel; "roman" means novel; romance is what happened in that novel. Logic!

One more lesson, and I promise to let you go eat chocolate and exchange sloppy kisses with your significant others:

Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. For example, chocolate is a food product made from roasted, husked, and ground cacao seeds, usually sweetened by something like vanilla.

Connotation is the emotional meaning of a word. For example, chocolate symbolizes comfort to some people. To others, it symbolizes weight gain. And sometimes the context changes its connotation. If it's on the grocery store shelf, it could mean temptation, but if it's wrapped and given as a gift, it might mean happiness or love.

So the point I'm getting at is that no matter what "romance" literally means, its connotation to you is what is important for you, so...

Enjoy your Valentine's Day.

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