Collins Language

Blogs from the Collins Language team in Glasgow, UK.

Monday, 8 February 2010

February 2010

I *heart* Valentine's Day

With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, it is hard to avoid big red fluffy hearts. They are everywhere. From heart-shaped chocolates to balloons, Valentine's Day is a beautiful opportunity to show a loved one how much we care / a cynical ploy to make us feel guilty and obligated.*

In Ancient Greece, the heart was conceived as the seat of not only feelings and the imagination, but reason also. As medical knowledge advanced through the centuries, it was realized that the brain was the centre of the nervous system and the location of thought. In the 2nd century AD the Roman physician Galen of Pergamum considered feelings to be dictated by the balance in the body of the four humours – choler, phlegm, black bile, and blood. Emotions were bodily happenings, not mental states, and were influenced by the regulation of heat in the body. The heart was thought to heat the blood, and was therefore the focal point of health in the body. This view endured until the 17th century when the role of the heart as a pumping mechanism for blood in pulmonary circulation was discovered. Despite these advances in medical understanding, the notion of the heart as the seat of the emotions remains in popular culture and in the language of today: we feel heartbroken or heartsick; we wear our hearts on our sleeves and have our hearts in the right place.

Using a heart symbol to represent love dates back hundreds of years. The shape is likely to be a stylized version of a human heart, but it has also been suggested that it may have evolved from a heart-shaped plant symbol in ancient Greek and Roman art. This conventional shape is still ubiquitous today from playing cards to jewellery to tattoo designs. In today's technology-driven society, new ways of representing the heart symbol have emerged, such as the texter's <3 . 'I <3 u' thus means 'I love you', not 'I am three years younger than you' as I originally surmised. Another innovation is the use of the word heart as a verb. We are all familiar with the I Heart New York logo; its big red thumping heart took on a whole new significance in the light of the September 11th attacks. An echo of this logo is found in the existential cult comedy title I Heart Huckabees. More recently, I came across this in The Guardian Life and Style section:

"Alex: Kate is totally awesome. Following our date we started doing all sorts together and had only gone and become ­total BFFs... I am ­delighted to be able to consider her one of my best friends. That's right, AB hearts KD." (source: The Guardian 30th January 2010)

But be warned, with its slightly facetious tone, I heart you is no substitute for I love you. There are times when only those three little words will do, and Valentine's Day might be one of them.

* delete as appropriate