By Joey Hart, Asst. Editorial Editor
“You either love it or you hate it.” It’s a phrase that often appears in conversation. It’s usually used by the speaker to describe something he/she has tried or experienced and that the listener has not. It could be about a movie, it could be about food, it could even be applied to people given the necessary pronoun changes.
Despite its common prevalence, this phrase is almost never accurate as used. Is there really anything that exists that could only either be loved or hated by the person experiencing it? Certainly not. One can like, dislike or even be indifferent to something in almost every case that this phrase is used.
It is true that we have many phrases in the English language that thrive on hyperbolic effect. The phrases “I wanted to kill him,” “We’ve gone over this a thousand times” and “That bag weighed a ton” are such examples, and in each case the meaning is clearly intended. The difference with “love it or hate it” though is that even with the hyperbole accounted for, the saying still does not hold water.
What the term “love it or hate it” means in common conversation is that one will either have a strong opinion in favor of something or a strong opinion against something. Having a strong opinion is not the same as absolute, literal love or hate. Thus the hyperbolic nature of the phrase is shown.
Even when we use this new definition, though, the phrase is rarely accurate.
Did people only have a strong opinion in favor of or against the latest Star Wars film installment? No, many thought it was just alright. Can one only have a strong opinion in favor of or against the taste of sauerkraut? Not at all, tastes range across a large spectrum. Of course, there are countless other cases where the phrase is used, but it is hard to imagine any case where the spectrum of opinions is so black and white as to only be relegated to love or hate.
So, why has this phrase invaded the modern day lexicon? That is a hard question to answer.
In the 1990s, the phrase gained notoriety when the salty food spread Marmite was marketed in the UK with the slogan “Love it or hate it.” The idea was the same as the saying’s colloquial use: the spread allegedly produces only polarizing opinions, creating consumer interest.
This instance of use is so well known that the website TV Tropes, a wiki that publishes descriptions and definitions of cultural and artistic phenomena, lists “Marmite Effect” as an alternative name for the phrase.
However, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer, a tool that keeps track of the rate of use of given words or phrases in books over time, the use of the phrase “love it or hate it” has been rising since the mid-1960s. This would indicate that the saying has been part of the Western zeitgeist for a longer period of time.
In any case, in a world with gray area, it is difficult to understand any situation where people’s opinions only devolve into one of two extremes. The use of this term by Marmite brand owners as a marketing strategy is understandable. The use of it as a lazy replacement for detailed commentary is less so.