I was surprised to learn that the phrase "making love" took on its
modern connotation only in the middle of the 20th century.
The Oxford English Dictionary apparently lists the first quotation for
its definition of "make love" as "to copulate" from 1950.
"SHAKSPER 2001: MND, OED, and making love", posting by Hardy M. Cook
SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference
Likewise, The New Fowler's Modern English Usage states that:
"From its earliest use in the 16c. the phrase to make love (often
followed by to) meant simply 'to pay amorous attention (to)'. At some
point in the mid-20c. it came to have only the restricted and very
precise meaning 'to have sexual intercourse (with)', and the older
meaning was forced out."
"Love", The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press
Another source indicates that the current meaning might be a little
"Peter Frewer's 'Mrs Grundy - Studies in English Prudery' just lists
the phrase as appearing with that meaning in the late nineteenth
century. Stuart Berg Flexner in "Speaking Freely" says the twentieth,
but again with no clear citation."
"The Making and Unmaking of Love", Mohammad Omar Farooq (Draft:
Homepage of Mohammad Omar Farooq
But it seems safer to say, based on the OED, that the current meaning
began to enter the language around 1950.
I have only an older version of the OED at home, so I cannot give you
the first documented quotation at the moment. I have sent a request
to my fellow Researchers to see if they can cite the first (or any
subsequent) quotation from the OED; otherwise, I will go to a library
and look it up for you.
In the meantime, the impression I have is that the current meaning of
"make love" is formed on the model of the French "faire l'amour",
which has longer had a sexual meaning, much as the term "paramour"
entered the English language as what we would now call a "lover".
"Many Taboo Words" [fifth paragraph]
Katholische Universität Eichstätt: Sprach- und
I'll get back to you shortly with the OED quotation(s).
Search terms used, in various combinations, on Google, Google Groups,
and other search engines:
"oxford english dictionary"
Clarification of Answer by
02 Nov 2002 00:49 PST
A fellow Researcher (thanks, juggler-ga!) has provided me with the
entry from the online OED. The entry defines "to make love" as "to
pay amorous attention; now more usually, to copulate. [After F. faire
l'amour or It. far l'amore.]"
The OED's first recorded use of "to make love" in the modern sense is:
"1950 M. PEAKE Gormenghast xxix. 173 One of the Carvers made love to
her and she had a baby." (The OED's next quotation in that sense of
the phrase is from 1967, by which time, it seems, the current meaning
was fairly well-established, as reflected by the popular slogan, "Make
love, not war.")