The whole language of love had been corrupted by overuse. When I listened to the radio in the car, my love fed effortlessly off the love songs that happened to be playing, for example, off the passion of a black American female singer, whose accent I took on (I was on an empty motorway) while Chloe became the lady's 'baby'.

Wouldn't it be nice
To hold you in my arms
And love you, baby?
To hold you in my arms
Oh yeah and I say, I do, I say I love you, baby?

(Alain de Botton, On Love pp.75-6)

Is feed off an idiom as is said, “eat something in particular customarily. (Of is usually retained before pronouns (thefreedictionary)“? But it seems to be kind of strange in the context. So I got this guess: it is not an idiom but a construction of ‘feed + resultative prepositional phrase’. I mean his love fed/heard the love songs and got totally distasted for them. How do I have to understand it?

  • 1
    bees feed off flower nectar, and cows feed off grassy pastures...
    – SF.
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 11:50
  • @SF.You’ve hit exactly my itching point! Now I got the usage of ‘off’ which is as same as yours in dictionary.com - preposition.29,30. Thank you very much.
    – Listenever
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 12:46
  • I think your (incorrect) understanding arises because you're trying to interpret the second sentence as amplifying the first. But actually, that first sentence is really a "heading" for both the remainder of the paragraph and several more following, which you haven't quoted here. So while the first sentence is negative about "the language of love", the rest of that paragraph just relates how the author himself has been "willingly seduced" by it (in positive terms). Questions and negativity reappear in the next paragraph (which is an integral part of the full context). Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 13:48

1 Answer 1


This is a common phrasal verb construction, and I don't think it qualifies as an idiom. In the case of something abstract or nonliving, such as love, the subject is personified and figuratively consumes [part of; in poetic usage the feeding is often non-destructive] the object.

To feed off (or on) something is to draw strength or sustenance from it, and need not involve literally eating the object. Macmillan and Cambridge have this as a standard entry. I think this meaning descends in a sensible fashion from the definition of feed.

To be sure, the relevant definition is not the most common or first listed one, which is literal eating. See:

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