How the West African “Good Girl” of the Mid-20th Century Behaved in a Relationship

Mid-20th-century Nigerian public media shaped a new image of modern West African girls and women. In particular, the “Milady’s Bower” column in the West African Pilot promoted the cultural ideal of a modern woman at that time. Its columnist, “Miss Silva,” often wrote about women and the changing roles of men and women in modern Nigeria at that time (Aderinto, 2015).

“Miss Silva” advised that modern women should be and behave in new ways. She explained that women do not experience and do not express love in the same manner as men. Women in love are more romantic and devoted than men. The gendered type of female love is due to their biological differences and certain gender expectations of Western African culture.

The Nigerian Girl’s Pride in Being a Woman

In Miss Silva’s view, the modern girl must also be willing to challenge long-held conventions and old-fashioned established practices. For example, she needs to change the ways in which gender relationships are formed.

In the “Milady’s Bower” column, they believed that a modern girl should be confident enough to ask a man out on a date. The days of waiting for a man to propose a romantic relationship are long gone. Miss Silva admitted that others might label the girl acting in this manner as a “whore.” Yet, according to Miss Silva, the social repercussions of disclosing one’s emotional intentions to a potential partner were outweighed by the need to communicate one’s feelings and break free from the “captivity of love.” She claimed that “the conspiracy of silence did untold harm and ought not to exist in these days of modern civilization.”

How the Nigerian Girl Could Win It

The “Milady’s Bower” relationship guidelines also offered instructions on how a woman ought to act when a man approaches her. A girl must courteously listen to “whatever one has to say to her and decline the same courteously without being offensive.” She must not behave with “false pride” or dig a “trench around herself”.

In her essay, “How to Win It,” Miss Silva gave suggestions on how a woman could win the heart of a man or make herself adored by him. She advised beautiful girls that they should not make the mistake of

“thinking that it is enough to be beautiful… Her loveliness may turn her into a selfish, cold hearted being, and so she has to remain unapproachable and unloved.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 495).

Miss Silva asserted that “simplicity” was a more valuable quality than beauty. She said that

“girls with their full share of pleasing looks may be neglected for the reserved and more simple [sic] ones.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 495).

What About Modern African Female Sexuality at That Time?

The “Milady’s Bower” articles discussed two stages of female sexuality and sexual relations. Miss Silva portrayed the first as a developmental stage in which a girl was “no longer a child but not yet a woman.” At this stage, a girl is still the “young damsel,” the “inexperienced girl,” going through her adolescence. Miss Silva stated that girls at this stage must be careful. They must avoid making the mistake of yielding to the pressure of sexual advances.

Another stage of female sexuality, which Milady’s Bower discussed, is a period of development when a girl is mature. It is a time when she has passed adolescence yet remains single.

Miss Silva was not straight in her opinion and gave advice about premarital sex at this stage. She did not explicitly judge premarital sex relations. However, she advised girls not to “cheapen” themselves and not to be “jolly sports” by having sex with different men:

“A reckless girl flirts, the infamous character will find out sooner or later, that she had created for herself an undesirable reputation.”

Miss Silva believed that when a girl frequently flirts and has numerous sexual relationships, these types of relationships may lower her self-esteem. These promiscuous relationships deteriorate her beauty, and men often abandon her.

Miss Silva allegorically depicted women as oranges, with sex as the juice:

“She finds herself stunned, for people after sucking the juice out of an orange will throw the remaining part away.”

Moreover, in her view, the modern girl must not engage in prostitution. First, it makes it risky to contract a disease. Second, it tarnishes the true African womanhood (Aderinto, 2015, p.495).

Tactile and Kinesthetic Senses of Love

Many of us believe that we love and are loved the way we see each other. It is true that visual appearance is salient in our interpersonal perception. Auditory perceptions—the way we hear each other—also convey important signals of love. Visual and auditory interpersonal perceptions are the vital senses of love.

Besides visual and auditory perceptions, the pleasant, tangible sensations of the tactile-kinesthetic modality make us attracted to another person. Our touching of another person and our senses of muscles, joints, postures, and movements of our body constitute the tactile-kinesthetic senses of love. All of them have an impact on our attraction and love.

The tactile and kinesthetic senses are very important in love and sex. Body positions, sitting close, cuddling, and kissing are the ingredients of our physical attraction.

The Tactile and Kinesthetic Senses of Love

Our skin, hands, and body are the major organs for such perceptions of another person in our relationships. This modality is felt in what our hands and bodies feel when touching the beloved. A physical touch, a hug, a shoulder squeeze, a handshake, or even a pat on the back are all important expressions of affection to the partner.

Cuddling, like other forms of physical touch, causes the hormone oxytocin to be released, which strengthens our bonds. This way, we perceive their ways of walking, bodily actions, hugging, and kissing.

All people are capable of understanding the tactile language of love. The studies found that people in the United States and Spain can reliably recognize the emotions of sympathy, love, and gratitude by touch, even by merely watching others communicate via touch. This language of love can be similar across cultures, so it may work for love without borders.

Some people, however, especially prefer the physical touch as the language of love, even more than verbal expressions of love (Chapman, 1995).

This perception is also kinesthetic, involving the sensation of moving, physical interaction, body coordination, and the coordination of other activities.

Tactile and Kinesthetic Senses of Love in Sexual Attraction

The role of tactile senses, kinetics, and olfaction is especially evident in sexual attraction.

Studies have found that tactile sensory experiences are particularly important for women’s sexual attraction and sexual arousal (Herz & Cahill 1997; Ellis & Symons 1990; Symons 1979).

For males, on the other hand, both visual and tactile sensations are equally important (Herz & Cahill 1997).

A sexual intercourse involves various tactile and kinesthetic expressions and sensual feelings of romantic attraction, such as holding hands, hugging, touching, kissing, and all kinematics (Marston et al. 1998).

Young men and women use massages, backrubs, caressing, cuddling, stroking, holding hands, hugging, and kissing on the face and lips as their expressions of physical affection (Gulledge et al. 2003).

Many couples use “makeup sex” to reconnect physically with their partners, sending an implicit message that the argument is over and they are ready to move on. 

The Tactile and Kinesthetic Ways to Show Love

There are multiple ways to express love without words. Holding hands seems like a classical picture of loving partners. Across many societies, a couple walking hand-in-hand down the street culturally means they love each other. Cultures, however, differ as to whether they allow display in public or only in private. Holding hands is a kind gesture that expresses physical love for your partner and physical attraction.

Compassionate and supportive love can be expressed by rubbing your partner’s back when he or she is dealing with an upsetting or challenging situation. Touching them is a normal act of empathy and understanding. You, as a loving partner, signal to them that you are there for them. The rubbing of their hand, arm, or another part of the body works the same way. Yet, it is important to make sure they feel comfortable with it.

Touching skin-to-skin often expresses affectionate and sexual love. Intimate love is often expressed by dragging fingertips across the partner’s hands, neck, or back, touching the partner’s hair, or even touching the partner’s bare legs. These are non-verbal gestures to show them you feel physically attracted to them and are in love with them.

Sitting Close to and Cuddling with your Partner

Being in close proximity to your partner and touching your partner’s body are physical expressions of love. Sitting with your hips or feet touching each other is a non-verbal approach to bonding with your partner. We may recall that when we argue or disagree with our partner, we frequently move physically away from each other. So, moving closer and touching your partner is a good way to break the tension after an argument and the best way to reconnect. Sitting side-by-side is a simple way to signal that you love them.

Cuddling is the act of physically wrapping yourself around your partner. These kinesthetic and tactile feelings bring you physically and emotionally closer to each other.

The Kissing Senses of Love

Kissing is among the ultimate expressions of sexual love. Kissing is a typical way to show physical love to your partner. This can be kissing their hand, their cheek, their forehead, their lips, or their neck. A kiss, however, does not imply sexual love.

Kissing is used in various types of relationships. Parents kiss their child, and a child kisses their parents. In many cultures, kissing is an action of greeting and respect.

Kinetic Idioms of Love

Partners often use kinesics as nonverbal idioms in their intimate talks. These can be body movements, postures, gestures, eye movements, eye contact, and other facial expressions (Hopper et al., 1981). For example, by twitching the nose (meaning “You’re special”) or pulling on the right earlobe (meaning “I love you”), they show their love for the partner.

Other Topics of Interest on the Topic for You

Love Power Is in the Power of Both Fire and Water

The aid of a metaphorical lexicon help us better grasp what love is. Various Western and Eastern languages and cultures have metaphors, metonyms, and related concepts for “fire,” “heat,” and “water” that stand for the core qualities of love (see Karandashev, 2019).

Metaphors of Love as Fire and as Water

In other places, I showed many cultural examples of how the lexicon of many cultures represents the metaphor of “love as fire” in Western cultures as well as in other societies around the world. It is worth noting that these metaphors are frequently associated with metamorphic images of water.

Water is also a power of love, yet it can have different connotations. In some ways, love and relationship emotions resemble the power of water. Nevertheless, they are as powerful as water in its numerous variations. They can be like storms, like waves, like rivers, like the great flood. For example, when we are overwhelmed by feelings, we experience emotional flooding, either in a positive way (feeling elation and euphoria) or a negative way (feeling anxiety and frustration).

  • “Looking at her, I was flooded by love”.
  • “Waves of passion came over me”. 


  • “He swept me off my feet”.
  • “I was carried away by love”.

Jane Eyre: Love Torn Between Fire and Water

The English Victorian culture of 19th century, however, presents a different example of Western cultural views on the metaphors of love-as-fire and love-as-water. “Jane Eyre” (Brontë, 1847/2008)- the novel of Charlotte Brontë beautifully exemplifies this cultural idea of that time. The fire-water image symbolizes the key points of the novel: love finds a golden middle way between the flames of passion and the waters of reason.

“She re-awakens the glow of their love, and their two natures join in a steady flame that burns neither as wildly as the lightning that destroyed the chestnut, nor as dimly as the setting sun of St. John Rivers’ religious dream”

(Solomon, 1963, p. 217).

The wildly passionate appeal of romantic love goes along with control (Imlay, 1993; Solomon, 1963)

Love as Fire and Water in Eastern Cultures

Water and fire metaphors also represent love in Eastern cultures. For instance, the Indian tradition embodies love in the metaphor of heat that commonly represents the power of fire and power of water:

Swept away by rivers of love

(swelling floods of their desire)

Torrents dammed by their elders

(propriety of all parents require)

Close they stand, anxious but still

(hiding passions, restraining sights)

Lovers drink nectars from the blossoms

(the love that pours from the lotus eyes).

Amaruśataka, a collection of Sanskrit erotic lyrical poems (cited by Siegel, 1983).

Eastern Cultural Representations of Love as Water

In India, love is widely represented in the context of water in Hindi films, television dramas, and songs. They follow the aesthetic traditions evolved in Sanskrit/ Hindi and Urdu poetry and art (Dwyer 2006, p. 294). In the Hindi films, romance and love are portrayed in a paradise setting: parks, gardens, mountains, and valleys: “a whole set of visual codes (landscape, setting, physical appearance, costume, symbols, and so on) as well as those of the language itself, a blend of registers of Hindi, Urdu, and English.” (Dwyer & Patel, 2002, pp. 55–59).

The romantic eroticism of water is portrayed by beautiful rivers, waterfalls, mountainous areas, and tropical beaches of paradise. Many episodes of films depict the fantastic places that create private spaces for romantic couples, where they are away from their family that can control their personal lives, love, romance, and marriage.

Islamic island culture in the Maldives is different from Hindu culture. Nevertheless, Maldivian video clips resemble the way love and eroticism are presented in Indian films and music. These video clips, on the other hand, frequently place love in the beauty of the Maldivian landscape. They portray the turquoise water, the swaying palm trees, and the white sand beaches of the islands (Fulu 2014).

Questions for thought:

Do you know any other metaphors about love as water?

How are the relation of fire and water represented in those metaphor?

Do other languages and cultures have similar or different metaphors about love as water?

You may also be interested in the articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love as a natural force

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures


Brontë, C. (1847/2008). Jane Eyre. Oxford University Press.

Dwyer, R. (2006). Kiss or tell: Declaring love in Hindi films. In F. Orsini (Ed.), Love in South Asia (pp. 289–302). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, R., & Patel, D. (2002). Cinema India: The visual culture of Hindi film. London, UK: Reaktion Books.

Fulu, E. (2014). Domestic violence in Asia: Globalization, gender, and Islam in the Maldives. London, UK: Routledge.

Imlay, E. (1993). Charlotte Brontë and the mysteries of love: myth and allegory in Jane Eyre. Parapress Limited.

Siegel, L. (1983). Fires of love, waters of peace: Passion and renunciation in Indian Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Solomon, E. (1963). Jane Eyre: Fire and Water. College English25(3), 215-217.

Cultures Across the World Regard Love as Fire

A metaphoric lexicon helps us better understand what love is. In many languages, the metaphors, metonyms, and related concepts of “fire” and “heat” represent the strong passion of love (see Karandashev, 2019).

The metaphors of “love as fire are among the most representative in English (Kövecses, 1990), for instance, in such a saying as “My heart is on fire.”

This type of metaphor, which compares love to hot and powerful forces like fire, is common in North American and many European languages. According to cross-cultural lexical studies, metaphors of “love as fire” are common not only in Western American and European cultural contexts, but also in many other cultures around the world.

Biological nature of love as heat and fire

The metaphors of fire, heat, hot represent the intensity of love in many European and North American cultures (see for review, Karandashev, 2019).

Seemingly universal lexical expressions of passion and the fire of love across languages and cultures have biological roots in the natural forces of the body. The psycho-physiological arousal that people experience when they are in passionate love determines this feeling of body heat. The rising body temperature, flushed and blushed cheeks, sweating palms, and a racing heart manifest body sensations resembling a burning fire. It is the warm feelings like being drunk. The release of such brain chemicals as adrenaline, dopamine, vasopressin, and oxytocin causes men and women to experience the sensations of euphoria and passionate love feelings.

Cultural variances in the metaphoric lexicon of love as fire

Conceptual metaphors reflect the variable intensity and concomitant experiences of love, from obsession to strong passion to moderate passion to affection. This experience varies according to the type of personality as well as cultural differences between people.

For example, Americans have the culturally normative extroverted character, while Chinese have the culturally normative introverted character. These cultural differences certainly effect how people in the two cultures normatively experience love.

The metaphor “love as fire” is more typical for English. The metaphor “love as  silk” is more typical of the Chinese love lexicon. The American, British, and French people speak about love differently—with great excitement and passion, while the Chinese speak about it tactfully and indirectly (Lv & Zhang, 2012).

The Love Metaphors of “Fire-as-Heat” and “Love-as-Light

(see also Body metaphors of emotions across cultures)

Fire” can symbolize not only the heat of passionate love but also the light that love brings to people. Love often makes a person’s life brighter, more joyful, and more meaningful. Here are two cultural representations of love expressed through the metaphors of fireworks and fireflies.

“Love-as-Light” in Chinese Culture

The metaphor of a “firework of love” is typical in Chinese but not in English (Chang & Li, 2006).

  • In Chinese, “Love is like fireworks. It is beautiful but does not last long” (ài qíng jiù xiàng yàn huǒ, duǎn zàn ér měi lì).
  • In English, the decrease of love intensity is expressed as “the fiery passion died down and gave way to warm affection” or “the old-time fire is gone.”

Thus, these cultures conceptualize differently the disappearance of love fire over time.

“Love-as-Light” in Japanese Culture

The similar glowing connotation of passionate love is known in Japan as the metaphor of fireflies, -“hotaru” (Namiko Abe). It has been a beloved metaphor for passionate love in Japanese poetry for centuries. “Hotaru” are like stars that came from the heavens to the earth.

“Love-as-Light” in Persian Culture

In the Persian language, the metaphor of fire in love can be illustrated by a contemporary Persian poem by Fereydoon Moshiri:

عشق تو بسم بود، که این شعله ی بیدار

روشن گر شب های بلند قفسم بود

“Your love was enough for me, for this wakeful flame (of fire)

enlightened my long nights in the cage”

Romantic vibe of candle lights and bonfires

The popularity of bonfires and candle lights associated with romantic relationships is another illustration of the metaphorical significance of fire in love. Across many cultures, these images of fire are conducive to romantic love. Candlelight has brought people light in life and spirit for centuries, until the invention of electric bulbs.

Since the middle of the 20th century, candles have become popular in secular life again—this time for other purposes. During the 1980s and 1990s, people in Western cultures began to use candles for decoration, creating a relaxing ambiance in their homes. The tradition became popular for romantic dinners with loved ones. Nowadays, a candle-lit dinner for two is a cultural stereotype in many Western cultures. The flickering and soft glow of candle flames is excellent for igniting the fires of amour. 

Questions for thought:

Do you know any other metaphors about love as fire, hear, and light?

Do other languages and cultures have similar or different metaphors about love as fire, heat, and light?

You may also be interested in the articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love as a natural force

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures

Love Is Hot as Fire: European and North American Cultures

Metaphors, metonyms, and related concepts enrich and deepen our understanding and experience of love. Many languages and cultures use various metaphorical expressions of love (Kövecses, 1988; Kövecses,2003).

In many European and North American cultures, love is compared to fire, a hot and powerful force.

Love as fire

Passionate love is among the most salient cultural stereotypes of love in public opinion across many societies. And the metaphors of “fire” and “heat” widely and vividly represent this passionate intensity of love in many languages (see Karandashev, 2019). Among English expressions are the metaphors for heat, hot, and fire. “My heart is on fire.” “I felt hot all over when I saw her.” “Her look kindled love in my heart.” “I love you,” he whispered in the heat of passion. “I am burning with love.” “She didn’t want to get burned again.” “She is his latest flame.” Other metaphors are less hot, but rather warm. “I just melted when she looked at me.” “She felt warm all over when her husband came home from work.”

Fire of sexual desire

Metaphors of heat frequently communicate lust. Being “hot” means being sexually attractive or sexually desirable. The heat metaphors express strong sexual desire and sexual attraction, like in these expressions: “he is consumed by desire,” “she is hot stuff,” “he is an old flame,” “he is cold to her.”

My heart is on fire of love

The conceptual metaphor “my heart is on fire” (Kövecses, 1990) embodies the intensity of love in the English emotion lexicon. The similar metaphorical concepts of heat and fire are present in the lexicons of other languages, representing other cultural contexts. Here are some examples

  • in German, “Ich brenne mit dem Feuer der Liebe” (I am burning with the fire of love),
  • in French, “Mon coeur brule d’amour” (my heart burns with love),
  • in Russian “Любовь сжигает тебя” (lubov sjigaet tebia, love burns you),
  • in Greek “Όλο το σώμα μου καίει από τη φωτιά της αγάπης” (all my body burns from the fire of love),
  • in Portuguese “O amor é um fogo que arde sem se ver” (Love is a fire that burns without seeing itself),
  • in Turkish “O, aşk ateşi ile yanıyordu” (he was burning with love fire),
  • in Albanian “I gjithe trupi me digjet nga zjarri i dashurise” (the whole body burned with the fire of love),
  • in Slovene, “Gorel je od ljubezni” (he was burning with love).

Fire as intensity of love

The various metaphors of fire, heat, and warmth represent the intensity of emotional experience. They figuratively communicate the qualities of

  • how love begins – love sparking, igniting love,
  • how love evolves – burning love, flickering flame, glowing with love,
  • how love ends –love burnt out, extinguishing flame of love.   

For instance, as German proverbs say:

  • Wer ins Feuer bläst, dem stieben die Funken in die Augen” (He who blows on the fire will get sparks in his eyes),
  • “Feuer im Herzen bringt Rauch in den Kopf “(Fire in the heart sends smoke into the head),
  • Die Liebe ist wie ein Feuer, wenn man nicht ab und zu etwas nachlegt, geht es aus” (Love is fire, if it once goes out, is hard to kindle).

The Spanish word “fuego” means “fire” as well as “passion.” Corresponding metaphoric expressions of love are:

“Hay un fuego empezando en mi corazón. Creo que estoy enamorado” (There is a fire starting in my heart. I think I am in love.)

“El fuego del amor no disminuirá” (The fire of love will never burn down).

Questions for thought:

Do you know any other metaphors for love as fire?

Do other languages and cultures have metaphors for love as fire that are similar or dissimilar? 

You may also be interested in the articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love as a natural force

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love as a Natural Force

Metaphors, metonyms, and related concepts make our understanding and experience of love richer and deeper. Various metaphorical expressions of love are quite typical across many languages and cultures (Kövecses, 1988, 2003).

For instance, the “love” metaphoric lexicon expresses the emotional experience of love in several metaphors that represent natural forces. These metaphors can emphasize the intensity of passion and lack of control in love.

Metaphors of Love as a Natural Force

The metaphor of “love as a natural force” presents many examples of this kind. Here are some examples: “for us, it was a whirlwind romantic relationship,” “I was carried away by love,” “she swept me off my feet,” and “I let myself go.” (Kövecses, 1988; Kovecses, 2003).

Similarly, the “love as physical force” metaphor represents love as a physical force like gravity, magnetism, or electricity. Once again, these metaphors emphasize that love is something over which an individual has no choice, no control, or no responsibility. For example, “they gravitated to each other immediately,” “I was knocked off my feet,” “his life revolved around her,” “they lost their momentum,” and “he was magnetically drawn to her.” The metaphors also highlight the love forces as magical, superior, and beyond an individual’s control: “He was enchanted,” “Waves of passion came over him,” and “She was completely ruled by love.”

The Natural Force of Romantic Attraction

Sexual desires and attractions are also often represented in the metaphors of electrical, explosive, or magnetic physical forces (Karandashev, 2019), e.g., “we were drawn to each other,” “we had chemistry between us,” “he had a lot of animal magnetism,” or “our relationship was devastating.”

Love magnetism

Love and lust can be internal natural forces. For example, the “love as nutrition” and “lust as hunger metaphors represent love and sexual desire like hunger for food or appetite. The beloved or sexually appealing person and love/sex itself are compared with necessary sustenance, nutrients, and food, e.g., “she was starved for affection,” “he hungered for love,” “he was sex-starved,” “she looked luscious,” “Hi, sugar!

Among the typical “love as physical force” metaphors are “love as fire (see another post) and “love as water.” Love is frequently described as a flood, storm, river, or wind. All these allegories usually characterize the high or low intensity of love and the ability or inability of a person to control their love experience—”He was burning with love.”

This metaphoric imagination can stem from the boosting effects of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Physiological experiences of tightness in the chest, short and shallow breaths, sweating, an increasing heart rate, and feelings of euphoria or anxiety can precipitate various natural sensations and images.

Questions for thought:

Do you know any other metaphors for love as a natural force?

Do other languages and cultures have similar or different metaphors for love as a natural force?

You may also be interested in the articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Body Metaphors of Emotions Across Cultures

Subjective experiences of love are widely embodied in various sensations and organs. Therefore, it is not surprising that bodily metaphors and metonymies are common for verbal expressions of emotion and love (see, for example, Kovecses, 1988, 2003). For example, an increase in body heat and in heart rate may be indicative of love, as in “I felt hot all over when I saw her,” or “He’s a heart-throb.” Sweaty palms and blushing may also stand for love, as in “She blushed when she saw him,” or “His palms became sweaty when he looked at her.”

The Heart Emotional Metaphors Across Cultures

A few types of heart metaphors referring to the expressions of emotions and love are present in Germanic languages (e.g., German and English) and Romance languages (e.g., Italian, Spanish, and French). The heart is a container of sincere feelings and emotions, as it is presented in German, French, Italian, and Spanish in such expressions as “speaking from the heart,” or “speaking from the bottom of one’s heart” (Pérez, 2008).

The Italian “parlare col cuore in mano,”  the same way as the Spanish “hablar con el corazon en la mano,”  has the figurative denotation “speak with the heart in your hand,” meaning “speak frankly,” “clearly show one’s emotions.” In English, the expressions “near my heart,” “give my heart,” “lose my heart,” and “gain a beloved’s heart” are common metaphors of love and affection.

The Turkish words for heart (“kalp” and “yürek”) are also used as metaphors for many emotions, such as fire, force, burden, agitation, and others (Baş, 2017). 

In the Gĩkũy – the spoken language of the Kikuyu people of Kenya (East Africa), the heart metaphor wendo ni ngoro (“love is heart”) figuratively localizes love and other emotions (Gathigia, Ndung’u, & Orwenjo, 2015). Several lexical expressions convey this meaning, such as wendo utumaga uhure ngoro (“love makes the heart beat fast”), wendo ni thakame (“love is blood”), and wendo wa thakame nduthiraga ngoroini (the love of the blood does not end in the heart”).

Cultural Variation in the Embodiment of Emotions

In many cultures, emotions are also localized in other body parts. In some Turkish metaphoric expressions, emotions are in the liver: “My liver, my soul” (Pérez, 2008). The Malay indigenous people also believe that emotions are situated in the liver (Howell, 1981). The Tahitian people believe emotions derive from their intestines (Levy, 1973). In the cultural expressions of emotions and love in several African cultures, such as Nigeria, the Akan people of Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire, the belly is the seat of emotions. It is worthwhile to note, however, that many culturally specific words may have multiple meanings that cannot be simply interpreted from a dichotomous view. For instance, the African word yam (stomach) is polysemic, and its expressions describe the intricate metaphoric and metonymic relations of the stomach, womb, heart, chest, and brain, representing multiple positive and negative feelings (Agyekum, 2015).

You may also be interested in these articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love as a natural force

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures


Agyekum, K. (2015). Akan metaphoric expressions based on yam ‘stomach’. Cognitive Linguistic Studies, 2(1), 94–115.

Baş, M. (2017). The metaphoric conceptualization of emotion through heart idioms in Turkish. Cognitive Semiotics, 10(2), 121–139.

Gathigia, M. G., Ndung’u, R. W., & Orwenjo, D. O. (2015). When romantic love in Gĩkũyũ becomes a human body part: A cognitive approach. Cognitive Linguistic Studies, 2(1), 79–93.

Howell, S. (1981). Rules not words. In P. Heelas & A. Lock (Eds.), Indigenous psychologies: The anthropology of the self (pp. 133–143). San Diego: Academic Press.

Kövecses, Z. (1988). The language of love: The semantics of passion in conversational English. Bucknell University Press.

Kövecses, Z. (2003). Metaphor and emotion: Language, culture, and body in human feeling. Cambridge University Press.

Levy, R. I. (1973). Tahitians. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pérez, R. G. (2008). A cross-cultural analysis of heart metaphors. Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses, 2, 25–56.

Where Do You Feel Your Love?

It is commonly assumed that love is evidently inside their body, soul, and mind. The questions remain, however: “Where do you feel and sense your love in your body?”

Love is Not Only Butterflies in the Stomach

Many people may think about butterflies in the stomach or heart.

When we are falling in love, we frequently experience such a swoony sensation in our stomach as “butterflies.” A metaphor of “a belly full of glittering monarchs and swallowtails” when our beloved one appears is quite illustrative. This feeling is both a physical and psychological phenomenon that signals our sexual passion and lust. Getting excited or anxious activates the gut and causes the fluttering feeling in our stomach because our brain activates the vagus nerve connected to our gut.

(see more in Why falling in love gives you butterflies, by Nicole Spector, Feb. 14, 2018, at

Love, like any emotion, can be a fleeting subjective experience with a certain pattern (or patterns) of feelings, body sensations, and physiological processes. Among those are: a warm rush or feeling hot, a racing heart, fast breathing, blushing, a flushed face, sweating, and butterflies in the stomach.

Body organs, especially vital ones like the heart and head, are frequently used in a variety of metaphorical and metonymic expressions of love. According to their cultural beliefs, people tend to attribute emotional and cognitive processes to certain organs of the body.

Do You Love with Your Heart or with Your Head?

The heart in love

The head and heart, as vital body organs, are often used in metaphorical expressions referring to mental life. In many Western cultures, the head is the place where reason and rational thought are located, while the heart is the place where feelings and emotions are located (see, for example, Karandashev, 2019).

The heart as the locus of emotional experience is commonly opposed to the head as the locus for rational thinking. This is called a dualistic view of mental life.

The “heart is a container of emotions” (Kövecses, 2003) is one of the most common metaphors for love. Sincere love is often attached to the heart, as in the saying “follow your heart.”

Many languages include a heart metaphor for love and associated emotions. The Spanish expression “hablar con el corazon en la mano,” as well as the Italian “parlare col cuore in mano,” means “speak with the heart in your hand” – that implies “speak frankly.”

These expressions are rooted in an old cultural metaphor that shows sincere feelings figuratively means “taking the heart out of one’s breast and showing it on one’s hand, where it is easily seen.” This saying is remotely associated with the old English expression “to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve,” which, in turn, stems from the chivalry tradition of the Middle Ages (Pérez, 2008). The expression is still used today with the idea of plainly expressing one’s emotions. In a similar vein, the heart commonly represents love.

A Dualistic View of Love

Psycholinguistic studies of metaphorical and metonymic expressions in the emotional lexicons of English, Japanese, and Thai have found two different ways of thinking about the mind that are based on culture: “dualistic” and “monistic” (Berendt & Tanita, 2011; Karandashev, 2019). 

As I noted above, in many Western cultures, the heart is the seat of feelings, emotions, and attitudes, while the head is the seat of cognitions and thoughts. When we are guided by our heart, we are guided by our emotions. When we are guided by our “head”, we are guided by our rational thought. This conceptualization admits a dualistic view of mental life functioning in either rational or emotional modes, guided by either the “head” (mind) or the “heart” (emotions). This dichotomy in Western cultures sets up a psychological dilemma: either “follow your mind” or “follow your heart.” In several Western models of emotion, love comes from the heart. The expression “listen to your heart” conveys self-expressive, individualistic cultural values. Practical reasons, however, still have their values. Therefore, many young men and women had a difficult choice in their lives: to “follow their heart” or “follow their rational thought,” as it is depicted in many novels in the history of literature.

A Monistic View of Love

Different from this dualistic perspective, some Eastern cultures perceive mental life from a monistic perspective. They do not oppose but rather integrate the rational and emotional modes of life. For example, the Japanese and Thai cultural views represent internal personal experience as a mixture of its different modes. Rational and emotional functions are not divided. These traditional cultural views are reflected in the conceptual metaphors of the Thai jai (heart) expressions and the Japanese hara (abdomen/belly) expressions. The Japanese metaphors, however, embody mental life in several sources: kokoro, mune, and hara (see more below).

You may also be interested in the articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love as a natural force

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures


Berendt, E. A., & Tanita, K. (2011). The “heart” of things: A conceptual metaphoric analysis of heart and related body parts in Thai, Japanese and English. Intercultural Communication Studies, 20, 65-78.

Karandashev, V. (2019). Cross-cultural perspectives on the experience and expression of love. Springer.

Kovecses, Z. (2003). Metaphor and emotion: Language, culture, and body in human feeling. Cambridge University Press.

Pérez, R. G. (2008). A cross-cultural analysis of heart metaphors. Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses, 2, 25–56.