Affairs of the Heart

Why do have such reverence for the heart? Yes, it’s functioning is necessary for survival, but that’s true for our other organs too. At the end of the day, it’s a big fleshy pump that sends blood around the body (I think that’s how it’s described in Gray’s Anatomy).

It’s important, but the number of idioms we have that refer to it seem quite out of proportion, compared to how often we refer to other parts of the body. The following is just a small fraction of the heart-related idioms listed at

While there are many ways to refer to the heart, there are a few more common ones: as the core of ourselves, like our soul; as a symbol of romantic love; and as a symbol of emotion in general. We’ve thought about the heart in this way for thousands of years, long before we discovered its function during the Renaissance. The Ancient Egyptians thought that the heart was the source of the soul and memory, which is why they threw the brain away during mummification. Aristotle similarly believed that the heart was the seat of intelligence, motion, and sensation. But why?

I think it’s because the heart makes us aware of it more than other organs do. We feel it beat, hear it. Even though our lungs are similarly in evidence when they function, they blend much more into the background. And their rate doesn’t change, unless we physically exert ourselves. And even then, the heart does too.

And it’s that change that I believe is most important. Our heartbeat changes a lot depending on the context. When we’re at rest it slows down, but when we get excited, it speeds up instantly. When we’re watching a horror movie and we know the monster’s coming, our pulse starts to race. And what about when we see that person we have a crush on coming our way? It’s natural that we would associate the heart with our emotions so much, especially romantic love.

What must it have felt like, before we had any idea what the heart was, to have felt that pounding in one’s chest while fleeing a sabre-toothed tiger, or doing whatever cavepeople got up to to keep warm on those dark winter nights? What a strange, mystifying thing it must have been to them: like another being right in the middle of their body, beating against them, and seeming to send waves of excitement around their bodies.

Now that I’ve thought about it, it’s no wonder that our hearts hold such a special place in… well, in our hearts.

You have to feel sorry for the meninges and the sabucbaus glands though: they’ll never get their moment in the sun. I just know it, in my heart of hearts.



5 thoughts on “Affairs of the Heart

  1. I’m sure if we had reached the “m”s, the phrase “my heart hurts” would be on it. My only son just went away to university and right now, I can tell you I feel it physically. Aside from that, my favourite expression is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when his mother cries, “Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain!” It just sounds so much more emotional to me–don’t know why.

    Liked by 2 people

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