Take a Word.... Heart: Etymology, Definition, Idioms, Short Story and Poem and Incidentals
'Heart' is derived from the Old English 'heorte', of Germanic origin, is related to Dutch 'hart' and German 'Herz', from an Indo-European root shared by Latin 'cor, cord-' and Greek 'kēr, kardia'. French for heart is 'coeur', from the Latin.
Position of the Heart, Symbol of Life
noun: heart (pron. hɑːt/)
- a hollow muscular organ that pumps the blood through the circulatory system by rhythmic contraction and dilation; in vertebrates there may be up to four chambers (as in humans), with two atria and two ventricles.
The heart of the matter is that we all need this pumping, squirting, pounding, pulsing organ in our body. Without it, life doesn't exist. With it, we can have a ball!
You hear someone say, 'Have a heart!' In a slightly admonishing tone, it is asking someone to care, to think about the situation, to respond with a little more kindness and consideration.
A breaking heart signifies the end of a love affair or the death of a loved one, human or animal, or deep grief caused by some event or another.
In short, the heart is the centre of our bodies, our world, our emotions, our actions and reactions.
Let's have a look at this vital word.
Idioms and Uses
Several phrases or uses of this word might come to mind. Have a think before you read on - how many sayings can you recall?
I've put a few into a short story and a poem below. Feel free to bring to my attention any other idioms or uses that spring to mind.
'Heart to Heart'
“Let’s have a little heart to heart. What about? Oh, I think you know what about. I saw you, you see. I saw you sneak into the house. What were you up to? I’m going to get to the heart of this, do you hear? You can’t go prying around like that. What would Cynthia say if she knew?”
Such was Meg’s end of the telephone call. She couldn’t find it in her heart to confront Joe face-to-face. Even after all these years he wasn’t easy. Oh, his heart was usually in the right place but since he left home her cousin had changed. He had caused his mother, Cynthia, much heartache, having gone away with no warning, no heart-felt message of ‘I’ll be back,’ or ‘Don’t worry, I’ll let you know where I am,’ or ‘Love you, Mum, but I need to see the world.’ In his casual, light-hearted manner, off he’d gone.
Now he was back. He’d taken a room at the local inn, The White Hart. Meg had received a call the day before, a quick “Hi, sweetheart, it’s Joe. Just thought I’d let you know I’m about. At the pub. Don’t tell Mum, I want to do that in my own time.” Taken by surprise she barely replied before he switched off.
Meg had taken the twitten as a short cut to the baker’s. Young at heart, she loved the arrival of Spring. Daffodils nodded confirmation of the passing of Winter as Meg heard finches twittering in the hedgerows, absorbed the strengthening sun bathing her face and allowing the trees to paint dapples on the path. After a few years in the heart of the city, she revelled in village life once more. As she’d passed her aunt’s house, a movement lured her eye to the back gate and there he was.
Her heart skipped a beat. Surely that was Joe! He hadn’t seen her slight form shaded by the grand oak and he was far too intent on his cause to be distracted. Swift and sneaky, he looked in all the windows, took a furtive glance around as he returned to the back, bent to pick up the key, and entered with firm resolve.
What was he up to?
Meg’s heart pounded. She had a heart of gold, always gave people the benefit of the doubt, but she couldn’t let this go without challenging him. What should she do? Why would he enter his own mother’s house in that way. Did he know what had happened to her? Cynthia’s heart would break if she found out Joe was here and hadn’t spoken to her. Would he be hard-hearted enough not to contact her? Meg was worried and somewhat cross.
So she’d called his mobile when she got back home, wanting an explanation.
“Oh, thought I’d got away with it!” was all he said. “I am going to contact her, just not yet. I’ve set my heart on doing a few things first.”
He obviously had no guilt pulling at his heartstrings. Why the secrecy? Had he removed valuables from the house? Was he searching for something? How could he be so cold-hearted towards his mother? Meg pondered many possibilities, searched her heart for anything positive but found nothing.
Cynthia, Meg’s kind-hearted aunt, was in hospital. She’d slipped and broken her leg: they’d kept her in just to monitor her as she’d had a mini heart attack not long before. Meg’s heart went out to her.
That afternoon she went to visit. Cynthia was fond of Meg. She was a woman after her own heart; thoughtful, helpful and kind. Cynthia’s face lit up when she saw Meg but when the latter asked if she’d told her son about the fall, her heart sank.
“No, I don’t like to bother him. He’s probably abroad or something so no point in making him worry.”
Meg thought, “Do him good to worry for once! What’s the matter with him? Heart of stone and selfish to boot.” It wasn’t often she condemned someone so, but his mother’s obvious sadness stirred her anger. Should she tell him? Best mind her own business and respect Cynthia’s wishes; not always good to let the heart rule the head. The saddest thing was that Cynthia’s birthday was in a couple of days. She might not even be home by then.
As it happened, Cynthia was allowed home the day of her birthday. Meg fetched her early in the morning. As she drove up to the front gate, a sight awaited them that warmed the cockles of their hearts.
From the gate to the front door, there was bunting through the trees, balloons tied on posts and branches and a multi-coloured HAPPY BIRTHDAY strung across the door. Flowers of every hue festooned the porch and, best of all, there was Joe, standing with a huge bouquet of red roses and a heart-shaped balloon, sporting a slightly embarrassed grin.
Cynthia couldn’t speak. Tears in her eyes, heart on her sleeve, she melted into Joe’s outstretched arms. Indoors, yet more flowers greeted her from the table, the window-ledge, the fireplace, every inch of space around the house.
He’d had a change of heart. He told his mother how sorry he was for causing her so much heart-ache, for ignoring her for so long. Joe realised in his heart of hearts that this was home. That old cliché, ‘home is where the heart is’, was true and it had taken half a life-time for him to see it.
Heart and Soul
Meg? Well, it was with a heavy heart that she realised her mistake. Why had she thought Joe was only up to no good? Finally, from the goodness of his heart, he had made amends to his mother, whilst Meg had only criticised, assumed he had learnt nothing. From the bottom of her heart, she told him she was sorry to have challenged him, sorry she hadn’t had the heart to talk when she’d watched him from the path.
Joe accepted her apology whole-heartedly and they became friends, both having learnt their lessons, heart and soul.
Heartbreak of War
Hearts and Minds - a Poem
bless his heart,
Every word heard
played its part.
In a heartbeat
he did cry
at the cruel hearts
Heart in mouth
and heart in boots,
he watched as war
destroyed his roots.
His mother said
‘follow your heart’
as she lay bleeding,
by those bullets
while those cold hearts
bombed the sky.
His heart bled,
why men fought,
Tried to reason,
with all his heart;
couldn’t hack it,
to see what drove
those who deceive,
whose eyes don’t see,
so hearts don’t grieve.
He’d learnt by heart
what parents told him,
how to value
all around him.
He’d lost his heart
to one so fair,
she whom he carried
‘gainst the glare
of enemy fire,
where hearts and minds
found peace, at one
with her dear God.
How could it be
that he allowed
the world to see
this carnage wild?
man to lose heart,
He should’ve fought,
that’s what they said,
‘How d’you rest easy
in your bed?’
He didn’t rest,
his heart was broken,
he’d rather that
he hadn’t woken.
Follow his heart?
That’s what he’d do.
Only one thing left,
He took to heart
their words of stone.
When he arose
the life he’d known
would soon be done,
he’d set his heart on
proving war futile,
lost or won.
He stood out in
the heart of bloodshed,
took the bullets,
That last day
when all was lost,
I watched him fall,
then he was tossed
into the mass-grave
It touched my heart,
the gun-fire grated
‘gainst my nerves
when silence came.
I took him home
from whence he came.
I can’t judge,
I gather souls,
when their bodies,
full of holes,
so then I deliver
to a land where
sits the giver.
I, the Reaper,
souls of silk and
souls of leather,
souls who wanted
peace on earth.
Do they know
just what it’s worth?
Hearts and minds
must work together,
forging peace and love -
A few more....
took it to heart - took it seriously, was affected by it
his heart’s not in it - no enthusiasm or commitment
half-hearted - not committed
man after my own heart - thinks the same as me, or likes the same things
oh, you’re all heart - sarcastic comment meaning ‘I don’t think you care.’
the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach - a man likes a woman who can cook!
pour your heart out - tell someone all about your worries or bad experiences
The Generous Heart of the Blood Donor
Symbol for Blood Donors
Blood donors are vital for transfusions to save the lives of many who need them. The heart shape is used as a symbol for donors. Those who serve for years are given badges and other awards, depending on their years of donations.
My partner has given for many years and he happened to be wearing his badge when he was in Thailand, many moons ago. A Thai donor noticed it and gave him his own! (pictured right)
Cupid's Arrow - Love Heart
A common reference to falling in love is 'cupid's arrow' through the heart. Cupid is sometimes depicted as a chubby little cherub with a bow, sending the arrow to pierce a heart. It can seem that painful sometimes, depending on the circumstances and the outcome!
To quote wikipedia: 'In classical mythology, Cupid (from 'Cupido' meaning desire) is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars, and is known in Latin also as 'Amor' (love). His Greek counterpart is Eros.'
A Suit of Cards
Hearts, of course, is one of the suits in a pack of cards. The Queen of Hearts is well known also in the story of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The unfortunate Knave of Hearts stole some tarts and was lucky to get away with his head still intact!
Here is Carroll's poem about the incident:
The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!
The King of Hearts, called for the tarts,
And beat the knave full sore:
The Knave of Hearts brought back the tarts,
And vowed he'd steal no more.
The Queen of Hearts - Alice in WonderlandClick thumbnail to view full-size
'Anyone who had a Heart'
There are so many songs dealing with affairs of the heart. This is one of my favourites.
‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ is a song written by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics) for Dionne Warwick in 1963. In January 1964, her original recording hit the Top Ten in the United States, Canada, Spain, Netherlands, South Africa, Belgium and Australia.
In the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand, the cover version by Cilla Black was more successful. Cilla was managed by Brian Epstein, also the manager of The Beatles. Black's version was a UK number-one hit for three weeks in February/March 1964.
You can listen to it on YouTube at
Cilla died in August 2015 at her home in Spain. She was 72. A popular singer and show host, she remained close to her roots of Liverpool and never shied away from her public, enjoying being among them and talking to them with her easy, friendly manner.
Cilla in 1970
Another of my favourites, Buddy Holly's 'Heartbeat', the last of his singles to be released in his lifetime. It had far more success in the UK than in the US, being released in 1959 and 1960.
It is a rock-abilly song credited to Bob Montgomery and Norman Petty, recorded originally by Buddy Holly in 1958. It was also recorded by the UK's Nick Berry and used for the signature tune of the popular television show ‘Heartbeat’, set in the 50s.
On 3 February 1959, Buddy Holly was travelling between venues with fellow rock and roll musicians Ritchie Valens and J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson, when the pilot lost control of the plane. It crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa. All aboard were killed.
Don McLean wrote and sang about their sad demise in his song 'American Pie', referring to 'the Day the Music Died'. Buddy Holly was only 22. When you think about how much he achieved in his short life, it makes you wonder what he could have become. He lives on in his music. Millions have taken him to their hearts.
Buddy Holly (Sep 1936 - Feb 1959)
Lovehearts for your sweetheart?
When I was a child we could buy packets of Lovehearts. Each small sugary sweet had a message on it, written in a heart shape. Messages such as 'Be Mine', 'Love You' and 'Grow Up'.
You could give one to someone, conveying love or disdain, or you could just eat them - giving them away seemed a waste to me!
Can you Think of More?
Well, we've covered a few here but there are more, I'm sure. Please add your own 'heart' phrases or particular relevant favourites. There are of course many more titles of songs, books, films and the like, which include 'heart' but I think this article is quite long enough already!
In the meantime, may your hearts be light, keep your loved ones in your hearts and I'll keep doing what is close to my heart - writing!
Where does your Heart Lie?
What touches your heart the most?
© 2015 Ann Carr