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