Does "craving" carve nature at the joints? Absence of a synonym for craving in many languages

Addict Behav. 2010 May;35(5):459-63. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2009.12.031. Epub 2010 Jan 11.


Introduction: Craving is a term commonly used by North American lay people, and is also used as an important category in psychological and addiction research. However, difficulties in defining craving suggest that it may not be a natural category.

Methods: Assuming that lexicalization of a concept is an indicator of its importance and/or universality, the presence of synonyms for craving is examined in a range of natural languages, using both dictionaries and native speaker informants. Related words, such as "love," "like," "urge," "desire," "adore" and "addiction" are also explored in 20 languages, in terms of meaning and the domains of life to which these words are applied.

Results: Based on automated translations, 64% of 25 languages have a craving synonym, and based on native speaker, only 17% of 20 languages lexicalize craving; when there is a synonym, it seems to mean a desire for a potential ingestant or a drug, that is, it is a desire restricted to certain domains of activity.

Discussion: The concept of "craving" appears to be limited in its importance and relevance in languages and cultures outside of English and North America. This finding has important implications for the understanding of "craving" as a natural category in the study of drug and other addictions. A similar though less extensive lack of synonyms for "addiction" is also reported.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Research
  • Semantics
  • Terminology as Topic*