meanings and origin of the phrase ‘no love lost’

The phrase there’s no, or little, or not muchlove lost between means there is mutual dislike between.

This expression is ambiguous, and has also been used to mean there is mutual affection between. Both senses are found in Clarissa; or, The history of a young lady (1748), an epistolary novel by the English author and printer Samuel Richardson (1689-1761):

– ‘positive’ sense:

“Why, what is the matter, cousin Dolly—Sure, nobody is entitled to weep in this family, but me!”
“Yes, I am, Madam,” said she, “because I love you.”
I kissed her: “And is it for me, my sweet cousin, that you shed tears?—There never was love lost between us: but tell me, what is designed to be done with me, that I have this kind instance of your compassion for me?”

– ‘negative’ sense:

“I am to be a sacrifice to your reconciliation with your implacable family.”
“It has always been your respectful way, Mr. Lovelace, to treat my family in this free manner. But pray, Sir, when you call others implacable, see that you deserve not the same censure yourself.”
He must needs say, there was no love lost between some of my family and him; but he had not deserved of them what they had of him.

The ‘positive’ sense – and the phrase – are first recorded in The comicall satyre of euery man out of his humor (1600), by the English poet and playwright Benjamin ‘Ben’ Jonson (1572-1637):

– Hee loues you well Signior.
– There shall be no loue lost Sir, I’le assure you.
– Nay Carlo, I am not happie i’ thy loue I see, pr’y thee suffer me to enjoy thy companie a little (sweet mischeefe) by this aire, I shall envie this gentlemans place in thy affections.

This sense is also recorded in a popular 17th-century ballad, The Children in the Wood; or, The Norfolk Gentleman’s last Will and Testament:

Sore sicke he was, and like to dye,
No helpe his life could save;
His wife by him as sicke did lye,
And both possest one grave.
No love between these two was lost,
Each was to the other kinde,
In love they liv’d, in love they dyed,
And left two babes behinde.

This sense was still found in the 19th century. For example, the English essayist and physician Nathan Drake (1766-1836) wrote, in Noontide Leisure; or, Sketches in Summer (1824):

Give me your hand, Master Simon, and let me tell you, to use a right pithy though somewhat homely phrase, there is no love lost between us. I hope soon, indeed, to be better acquainted both with you and your pupil Hubert, truant though he be!

The opposite sense of the phrase, which has outlived the other, is first recorded as early as 1621 in A shilling, or, The trauailes of twelue-pence, by the English poet John Taylor (1578-1653):

My seruice to the Poets haue bin euill,
I ranne more swift from them, then from the Deuill,
I know not well the cause, but they and I
Together long could ne’re keepe company.
I haue a true excuse that will defend me,
They loue mee not, which makes e’m quickly spend me.
But there’s no great loue lost twixt them and mee,
We keepe asunder, and so best agree.

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