In contemporary English, the word ‘passion’ refers to strong emotions and intensity. One context of the word that is worth looking at is in relation to work.  “Everyone wants to have passion in their work,” Kristi Hedges writes in Forbes in an article titled “Let’s Get Real About Passion At Work.” Why should we be passionate about our work? After all, if we do the thing we love we risk ruining its enjoyment with stress and deadlines. The reason Forbes and other articles high in Google’s search results for “passion in the workplace”  espouse passion at work is that passion is contagious. It’s common knowledge that people are happier if they are passionate about their job, but employers broadly don’t care how happy you are unless it affects your productivity, which is likely an underlying cause to the passionate work campaign. Another effect of this mindset is that your full self should be invested in your job, which, if you think about it, is a lot to expect of a person.

Looking at the history of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary attributes the origin of the word in the Latin passiōn-, passiō, in classical Latin meaning “an affection of the mind, emotion,” and “ in post-classical Latin also the sufferings of Jesus.” There are broadly three greater sections within the definition of ‘passion,’ the first referring to physical suffering, the second referring to emotional or mental states, and the third full of obsolete uses relating to passivity.

Within the first section are many discrete definitions, the first few of which refer to Jesus Christ. The Passions of Christ (note the capitalization) refers to the suffering of Jesus between the Last Supper and his death, including the Crucifixion. Although the usage of the word in a religious sense seemed to hold high importance for many centuries, the usage in reference to emotional states actually predated it. Classical Latin was used between “75 BC [and] AD 3rd century, when it developed into Late Latin.” The 3rd century is also around the time that Christianity was beginning to gain popularity and notoriety. The latter portion of the section on physical suffering contains obsolete uses of the word, such as painful disorders and ailments, as in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1623), as noted in the Oxford English Dictionary “give her what comforts // The quality of her passion shall require.”

The second definition deals with emotions. The first usages of ‘passion’ in reference to emotions documented by the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1250 in Old English which is indecipherable to a contemporary English speaker. The definition given with this date dealt with “any strong, controlling, or overpowering emotion, as desire, hate, fear, etc.; an intense feeling or impulse.” This sense of the word is still used today. A more specific emotional sense of this word was amorous, romantic, and lustful. The first documented use of this sense is in 1590 by Edmund Spenser in his poem ‘The Faerie Queene,’ “But when shee bitter him beheld, shee grew Full of soft passion and vnwonted smart.” The first documented use of the emotional definition of ‘passion’ pertaining to enthusiasm is in the 17th century. It is clear by this point that passion necessarily deals with something held very deep within a person. The notion that one must be passionate about their career is a high bar to set. How many people can truthfully say it is their passion to go into an office five days a week and work on a computer. Some people have the relative luxury of doing more involved work such as teaching or creative endeavors but it remains the expectation that your career should be your passion.

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