It was in the late twelfth century that English speakers started using the noun passion, only back then they spelled it passium (or sometimes passiun) and used it solely in reference to the sufferings of Christ on the cross. It was borrowed from the Old French passïon, which was itself a descendant of the Late Latin passio (the nominative form of passionem) and also meant “the anguish of the crucified Christ.” In a reflection of its French and Latin roots, the English noun's form changed to passioun (sometimes spelled pasion) in the late thirteenth century, though its meaning was extended to include any kind of suffering and not just that of Jesus during the Crucifixion. It was around the middle of the fourteenth century that the word morphed into its now familiar form passion, soon after which it came to mean “strong emotion or desire” and lost its general association with suffering. (The connotation of Christ's anguish remains intact, but when used in this way, the word is customarily spelled with a capital P.) It wasn't until circa 1590, however, that the noun took on the additional meaning of “erotic desire or sexual emotion”—some etymologists claim that Shakespeare, in his play Titus Andronicus, was the first to use it in this sense—and the more general contemporary meaning of “a strong enthusiasm” (as in a passion for art) didn't show up until circa 1640.
©2016 Michael R. Gates