Learn English – Why do _some_ -phile words have sexual context if phileo means friendship love?


Lots of words ending with -phile have a sexual context, yet phileo is a friendship love which has nothing to do with sexual context. Why is that? Is there an innocent, pure, friendly suffix that can be used with the meaning "lover" and not "luster"?

Best Answer

Michael Quinion, Ologies and Isms: Word Beginnings and Endings (2002) suggests that words taking the suffix -phile can be sorted into a number of subgroups within the philos-related family:

-phile Also -phil, -philia, -phily, -philic, and -philous. Lover of or enthusiast for, having an affinity with a given thing. {Greek philos, loving.}

Several broad groups are linked within this ending. One set denotes an admirer of the customs, people, or institutions of a country: Anglophile, Francophile, Slavophile, Japanophile. Another marks an enthusiast for the cultural products of a medium (audiophile, cinephile, videophile), or for some subject area (bibliophile, a lover of books; oenophile, a connoisseur of wines; technophile, a person who is enthusiastic about new technology). It also appears in names for abnormal psychological states: a paedophile (US pedophile) (Greek pais, paid-, child, boy) is a person who is sexually attracted to children; a zoophile (Greek zoion, animal) can be a person with a morbid attraction to animals (though it is also used for a micro-organism that attacks animals).

So, according to Quinion, constructions such as necrophile are merely a subset of the larger group of possible meanings of -phile—a particular subset that refers to attractions based on abnormal psychological states. The existence of such words needn't be seen as casting any kind of sexual shadow over words such as Russophile, acidophile, and electrophile.