Nervio

Shortly after meeting my wife, she introduced me to the nuanced meaning that the Spanish word nervio had acquired in the lexicon of her family. As used in their Chilean home, the word could be defined as a feeling of such intense affection that one trembles or grits his teeth with restraint so as not to harm the object of his affection. I have heard others allude to the sensation in seemingly bizarre phrases such as, “It’s so cute [that] I want to squeeze it to death.”

I often ask people about nervio. For those like me who have experienced it frequently throughout their lives, a complete definition is unnecessary and the word fills a void in their vocabulary. With others, my description is often greeted with bewilderment. Having never felt such a sensation, it is hard for them to imagine.

The Robert Capa portrait of Pablo Picasso with his son Claude (on the left) is one of my favorite photos because it serves as an elegant visual definition of nervio. It is the only work of art that I have encountered that captures the spirit of the word. However, we also have photos of our own.

I'd be interested in hearing others' nervio experience. I've moved this page to flickr to facilitate commenting. Go there if you'd like to share yours.


So far, here's what I have heard:

from Robyn Miller:

I've experienced this so incredibly often that it's never once occurred to me that every person in the world doesn't experience the exact same thing.

The phrase I've always used was, "Eat you all up." As in... "I love you so much I could just eat you all up!" or variations like, "Your so cute, I could take a bite right out of you!" This is sometimes followed by a mock "love bite", which causes a lot of laughter!

All of this was handed down from my Mom.

Thanks for the description!!!.

also from Robyn:

I sat down with my family at dinner and told them about your nervio description. Every one of them immediately related to it, and the first words out of my wife's mouth were, "oh, I could just squeeze you right in two!"

I can hardly believe this doesn't sound insane. Yet it sounds perfectly normal in its correct context. Bizarre!.

from Shannon Dallenbach:

My husband sent me a link to your article to help me put a word to my sensations. I often call it "of mice and men" syndrome. My husband has come to realize it's love when i crush his hand when we walk down the street together and will take the cats away from me when i think they are jst too cute.

from A thinker:

"Nervio" is a brilliant word, because I've had that experience, but didn't know what to call it. As a child, I loved my cats so much that I frequently had an urge to squeeze them so hard it would almost certainly have killed them. Of course you restrain it, but it's very much a physical feeling, welling up inside you so strongly that it's hard to control it. Or it's like wanting to "eat" someone you're in love with, maybe biting them so hard you give them a hickey..

from Angela Silva:

I was born and raised in the Philippines, specifically in the middle group of islands called Negros. I speak a local dialect, Visayan, and our term for nervio is gi-gil (hard g). I describe it to my American husband and non-Filipino friends as "affectionate frenzy." I'm happy to see it in other cultures..

Another email also mentioned gigil as the Tagalog equivalent of nervio and sent in a link to this Kraft sandwich spread commercial. I later found this gigil description with photo.

from Aimee Lewis Elliotte:

Growing up my grandmama would come up to me as I sat on the couch or floor and pat my upper thighs very hard saying, "I could jerk your leg off and beat you with it!" She always meant it as a term of affection and I knew this. I never thought about what she was actually saying until after her death when I was an adult. Of course, I now squeeze my daughters and tell them I could eat them with a spoon, so the family tradition continues!.

I had forgotten the following dialog from the Punch-Drunk Love script, but was fortunate to receive a reminder by email.

Lena: Oh my god, you are so adorable. I just....god dammit.

Barry: What's that? What is that that you're doing?

Lena: I just...your face is so adorable and your cheek and your skin, I wanna bite it....I wanna bite your cheek and chew on it....god damn cute....f***....

Barry: I know what you mean, I know what you mean, I get this feeling --

Lena: ...what...?

Barry: I don't want to hurt anything ever, but what I'm talking about is -- have you ever held a little puppy or a little kitten and it's just the cutest, softest, most precious thing in the world and out of the blue you get this feeling in your gut and all you wanna do is squeeze it. Just f***in squeeze the s*** out of it. To take a little puppy and smash its skull...just so precious, so beautiful. Just so god damn wonderful and cute you wanna smack it and kick it and love it. F***. I don't know. I don't know. And you, you.....I'm looking at you and I just....your face is so beautiful I just wanna smash it, just smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it...you're so pretty.

They kiss and kiss and kiss;

Lena: I know. I know. I know. I just wanna chew your face and scoop out your beautiful, beautiful eyes with an ice cream scooper and eat 'em and chew 'em and suck on 'em. F***.

UPDATE [26 Sept 2013]: A friend has now pointed me "Why do you want to eat the baby?" which gives discusses a potential explanation for nervio, at least when felt for babies.


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