by heart

Discuss word origins and meanings.
Post Reply

by heart

Post by russell » Wed Mar 02, 2005 7:03 pm

I have searched everything I can think of without success. Does anyone know the origin of "I know it by heart"?
Post actions:

by heart

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Mar 03, 2005 12:13 am

You are assuming it is a quote, but I suspect that it is merely an ancient idiom whose origins are probably untraceable.
Post actions:
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

by heart

Post by haro » Thu Mar 03, 2005 1:26 am

"To know something by heart" is literally the same as French "savoir quelque chose par coeur" and also means exactly the same. Other languages I know do not use that kind of figure of speech, not even Romance ones such as Italian or Reto-Romansh, which are pretty closely related to French. English was under heavy influence from France especially since William the Conqueror, so maybe that's how it was brought to Albion. Just an assumption of mine, though.
Post actions:
Signature: Hans Joerg Rothenberger
Switzerland

by heart

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Mar 03, 2005 2:16 am

Russell, The BY HEART as in ‘know by heart’ and ‘learn by heart,’ means in the memory, from memory, by rote. “He had heard his father’s speech so many times that he knew it by heart.” The ancient Greeks believed that the heart was the seat of intelligence, memory, and emotion. This belief was passed down through the ages and became the basis for the English expression ‘by heart,’ which is used by Chaucer in ‘Troilus and Cressida,’ Book V, 214 but which probably was in use long before then:
<1374 “She also told how Haemonides with art / escaped when Tydeus slew fifty knights: / she also told all the prophecies BY HEART / and how seven kings with their host’s might / besieged the city in that fight, / and of the holy serpent and the well, / and of the Furies, she began to tell.”>
It is interesting that the word ‘record’ also derives from the idea of the heart as the seat of the mind. In ancient times when writing wasn’t a simple act, things had to be memorized. Thus we have the word ‘record,’ formed from the Latin ‘re,’ again + ‘cor,’ heart, which meant the same thing as ‘learn by heart.’
<1528 “[We] rehearsed BY HEART the chapter ‘Veniens.’”—in ‘Pocock’ by Gardiner, Rec. Ref., I. 1. page 103>

<1573-80 “To learne BY HARTE, or without booke . . . To say by HARTE.”— ‘An Alvearie or Triple (Quadruple) Dictionarie’ by Baret, H202>

<1645 “I had said them [prayers] rather BY HEART than with my heart.”— ‘Good Thoughts in Bad Times’(1841) by Fuller, page 15>

<1709 “Whole Tragedies she had BY HEART.”—‘Hans Carvel,’ page 13>

<1739 “Pray get these verses BY HEART against the time I see you.”—in ‘Letters’ (1792) by Chesterfield, I. xliii. page 138>

<1885 “Few lawyers know BY HEART the complicated statutes relating to Church matters.”—‘Law Times,’ LXXIX. page 339/2>
(Oxford English Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins)

Ken G – February 2, 2005
Post actions:

End of topic.
Post Reply