longing /ˈlɒŋɪŋ/

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definition: a yearning desire 

I’m in a pretty melancholic mood tonight and wanted to try my hand at flash fiction. Out of the 13 Lucky Tips for Flash Fiction, I really liked the emotion one: Pick a key emotion to colour the story. I settled on longing. Then I realised that longing is a vague word, almost a metaphor in itself.

Longing’s origins are from Old English, Dutch and German – langian, langen and langen – which mean prolong, present/offer and reach/extend respectively. Notice that none of these meanings relate to yearning explicitly. Of course, Old English includes the meaning of ‘dwell in thought’, which is probably where the meaning of longing came from, but what interests me is how longing could have evolved from ‘long’ literally meaning “a large amount of time” into ‘longing’ as a metaphor.

Like many metaphors, longing seems to have first stemmed from concrete vocabulary. Maybe as a signifier, the the word long initially meant concretely: “a large amount of time”, but it soon evolved to encapsulate the emotion that oftentimes co-exist with being such a long distance away from a loved one – the yearning that comes with the distance. It soon evolved into what we call concrete-abstract vocabulary – deceptively simple words but with a world of meaning and value wrapped up in them.

At least, that’s my preferred theory of how longing became a one-word metaphor, one that, I’m glad, seems to be increasing in usability. Now… back to the flash fiction prompt..