What Does 'Sapphic' Mean? Here’s What the Word Means and How It Relates to ‘WLW’

If you’ve scrolled Twitter or TikTok long enough, you might have stumbled across the term or label “sapphic.” You probably were already able to figure out that it’s a queer term or label and members of the LGBTQ+ community use it. But, as with all labels, it’s not for everyone nor can everyone use it. Sapphic is an umbrella term meant for queer women. Here’s all you need to know about sapphic, where it came from, and how it relates to "wlw" and lesbians.

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What does 'sapphic' mean?

If you want to get the most accurate definition of the word “sapphic,” Dictionary.com states that sapphic is an adjective that can describe a lesbian or “a woman who is sexually or romantically attracted to other women…” As it says, it’s an umbrella term used by women who are attracted to other women. You could also use “sapphic” to describe one of Sappho’s poems or her stanzas, which we’ll get to in a minute.

Sapphic can be a label or whatever the queer person using it wants it to be. Basically, any non-man or woman who has the potential to be attracted to other non-men or women can use sapphic to describe themselves. That means lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals and more identities can be sapphic. And it’s not a term that only cis women can use either; all women or non-men—trans, non-binary, etc.—can be sapphic if they’re also attracted to other women. But just because someone is sapphic does not mean that they're also a lesbian.

Where did the word ‘sapphic’ come from?

As hinted above, the word's core points to where it originated, which is through the Greek lyric poet, Sappho. The term has been around since the 1500s to talk about Sappho’s poetry, kind of similar to how "Shakespearean" is used for William Shakespeare’s work. While “sapphic” can be used as an adjective or noun now, back in the day “sapphism/sapphist” were also used. All of those words have been around just as long as the word “lesbian,” with both being used as umbrella terms in the 18th century for women who had sexual and/or romantic relationships with other women.

Sappho quite famously wrote poems about women and girls in a very gay way. Sappho’s queer ways and words are where we get the word “lesbian” from as well because she was from the Isle of Lesbos in Greece. There are only fragments left of her poetry, so there is debate on how sapphic she was, but her queer legacy lives on in the words “sapphic” and “lesbian.”

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What does 'wlw' mean?

At this point you might be thinking, “Isn’t that wlw means too?” and you’d be right. The acronym WLW (or stylized online as simply wlw) stands for “woman-loving woman,” AKA a woman-identifying person who loves/is attracted to other women.

It’s harder to pinpoint where woman-loving woman came from or even where wlw originated, but it seems like the former has been a term used for queer women for a long time. And odds are the shortened acronym came about with the advent of the internet.

Is wlw a TikTok saying?

With TikTok being a fairly newer app, starting in 2018, there’s no way it was invented on the platform, especially considering some of the earliest, relevant definitions on Urban Dictionary come from 2015.

But wlw does have a big presence on TikTok. The wlw hashtag has over 16.7 billion views at the time of this reporting and #wlwcouple has 2 billion views.

What are some sapphic characters?

The terms “sapphic” and “wlw,” while not invented by or for the internet, are still major staples in fandoms today. Whether it’s a headcanon—things that fans make up in their heads about a certain piece of work and isn’t canon—or an actual sapphic couple, you can bet a whole stan army stands behind popular wlw pairings in media.

Some examples of canon sapphic characters or couples are:

  • Catra and Adora from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

  • Villanelle and Eve from Killing Eve

  • Yara Greyjoy from Game Of Thrones

  • Callie from Grey’s Anatomy

  • Rue and Jules from Euphoria

  • Tara and Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  • Santana from Glee

  • Korra and Asami from Legend of Korra

  • Taissa and Van from Yellowjackets

How does ‘lesbian’ fit in with ‘sapphic’ and ‘wlw’?

In the end, sapphic is just another label or way to describe a queer woman who is attracted to other women. Sapphic, along with wlw, is an umbrella term that can include lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals and more as long as they’re women or non-men who love women or non-men. Lesbians can identify as sapphic, but not all sapphics are lesbians.

Now, read on about Lesbian Visibility Week and how to celebrate the lesbians in your life.