I've been reading Busman's Honeymoon again and came across the sentence:

I put it down first of all to the effect of gold lamé, but, on consideration, I think it was probably due to "lerve".

Where a don of the female college Harriet Vane went to is talking about her "looking like she stepped out of a Renaissance portrait". What does the word lerve mean here?

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    Your title suggests you're asking about "leave", but the question asks about "lerve", which is not a word I am familiar with and which has mostly unhelpful results in web searches. Can you make sure the apparent typos there, and the missing close quote, are cleared up? Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 20:59
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    @nathantuggy thank you for pointing that out I'm afraid the autocorrect on my phone is quite bothersome occasionally.
    – DRF
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 21:02
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    @stoneyb i thought that might be it but it seemed a bit strange as it is in a letter from a friend of Harriet Vane (which the letter refers to) and if I understand the way this pronunciation would be used it seems as though it would carry a derogatory tone no? Towards the love at least if not the person referenced.
    – DRF
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 21:05
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    @DRF (Sorry - I deleted my comment preparing to expand on it). It's an exaggeratedly vulgar pronunciation, I think, representing /lʌv/ rather than the Received Pronunciation, which approximates /lɑv/. It suggests love as it is thought of by the sort of people who watch romantic films and read romantic novels. That's why the genteel author puts it in quotes. Keep in mind that English dialects are mostly non-rhotic, so the <r> indicates the color of the vowel, not the consonant. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 21:08
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    Thank you @stoneyb apparently I misjudged the word. I'm still not perfectly sure why the Don chooses that spelling/pronunciation but I'm guessing some sort of self-deprecation or maybe just being uncomfortable with the sentimentality it brings to the phrase?
    – DRF
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 21:14

2 Answers 2


It's a slang form of 'love'. Sometimes also spelled 'lurve'. Usually spoken in a humorous parody of a romantic slurred voice. Today, I learned it was used as far back as 1936!

1936 Daily Mirror 1 Oct. 27/4 Which means..that (a) you're in Lurve, but (b) you're not sure he's in Lurve with you. 1937 D. L. Sayers Busman's Honeymoon Prothalamion 23, I put it down first of all to the effect of gold lamé, but, on consideration, I think it was probably due to ‘lerve’. - See more at: http://findwords.info/term/lurve#sthash.EhtfV5g5.dpuf

I thought it was interesting that your specific quote is in the Oxford English Dictionary as an example of another spelling of the slang 'lurve'. Source

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    It's funny how even though I pronounced “lerve” the same I totally missed that it was “lurve.” Anyway, you should probably note that this isn’t even remotely formal, being an onomatopoeic mockery of a particular speech pattern.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 4:14

Lerve is a word used to describe a love about which the word "love" is not adequate. An overpowering and overwhelming sort of love such as one may experience with a true soul-mate

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    This is quite wrong; it is not a word used to seriously describe this sort of thing, but to mock these sorts of intense, dramatic, hyper-romanticized descriptions, especially when the one in "lerve" has little experience to compare their current state to. Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 23:10
  • Do you have a source to cite for this definition? Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 2:13

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