1

Should chocolate, or wine, be described as sensual because it is a physical pleasure, or sensuous to show that it's not a sexual pleasure?

I ask because, after reading their definitions it seems that these two words work much the same semantic territory.

3

This is interesting, because it appears that the original intent with the coining of "sensuous" was to avoid the sexual connotation, but by the late 19th century, the understood meaning for both converged back to that.

Based on the history of the word, it looks like "sensuous" would be more fitting, but it still suffers from man's inevitable tendency to veer toward hearing or reading the sexual meaning, if there is one.

From About.com Grammar and Composition, where a fuller explanation can be found:

The adjective sensual means affecting or gratifying the physical senses. Sensuous means pleasing to the senses, especially those involved in aesthetic pleasure, as of art or music. But as explained in the usage notes below, this fine distinction is often overlooked.

From Etymology Online,

sensuous (adj.) 1640s, "pertaining to the senses" coined (from Latin sensus) by Milton to recover the original meaning of sensual and avoid the lascivious connotation that the older word had acquired by Milton's day, but by 1870 sensuous, too, had begun down the same path. Rare before Coleridge popularized it (1814).

sensual (adj.) mid-15c., "of or pertaining to the senses," from Late Latin sensualis (see sensuality). Meaning "connected with gratification of the senses," especially "lewd, unchaste" is attested from late 15c.

sensuality (n.) mid-14c., "the part of man that is concerned with the senses," from Old French sensualité, from Late Latin sensualitatem (nominative sensualitas) "capacity for sensation," from Latin sensualis "endowed with feeling, sensitive," from sensus "feeling" (see sense). Chiefly "animal instincts and appetites," hence "the lower nature regarded as a source of evil, lusts of the flesh" (1620s).

  • FWIW, Google Books has 44 instances of chocolate is a sensual but only 3 (two being duplicates) of chocolate is a sensuous. Corresponding figures for Google Internet are 340K and 35K, so regardless of any possible difference in meaning/connotation (which certainly escapes me), it's obvious which one most people go for. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 4 '13 at 23:45

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