Last week, in talking about the word novel, I mentioned that novels were previously referred to as romances, which of course set us up perfectly for this week’s Word. =)
Since around 1300, romance meant “a story, written or recited, of a knight, hero, etc.” Why were they called romance? Because they were told in the everyday, vernacular language of a place rather than in Latin, and romance was also the word used for everyday, vernacular French. This comes from the Vulgar Latin romanice scribere, “to write in a Romance language,” which is to, one derived from Latin. (I daresay most of us have heard of “the romance language” of Spanish, French, etc.)
By the 1660s, the literary definition had expanded to mean “a love story.” Interestingly though, it wasn’t applied to an out-of-literature love affair until 1916–who knew? Romance novels have only been a recognized genre in an of themselves since 1964.
Also interesting is that the verb, to romance someone, is only from 1934. Before that it meant “to invent fictitious love stories.”