The Grammarphobia Blog

Do you heart New York?

Q: I wonder if you’ve seen the use of the word “heart” to replace the familiar heart symbol. I first saw this on a T-shirt printed with “I heart my mom”; then I was asked by a tourist where she could find “I heart New York” items. And the science-education issue of the Barnard College alumnae magazine had an article with the title “I heart science.” For some unexplained reason, I find this usage very annoying. I’ve gotten used to the heart symbol, but this seems ridiculous.

A: Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I must have had my head, if not my heart, in the sand to have missed it. I just googled “I heart” and got 2.25 million hits – from “I heart knitting” to “I heart pixels” to “I heart paws.” Hmm.

Interestingly, the use of “heart” as a verb isn’t a modern phenomenon. In fact, the first published reference for the verbing of “heart” dates from around 897, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

In Anglo-Saxon days, to “heart” meant to give heart to or inspire someone. The latest OED citation for the usage is in an 1830 poem by Tennyson: “A grief not uninformed and dull, Hearted with hope.”

The verb “heart” has had several other meanings over the centuries, including to utter with heart, take heart, be at the heart, and have one’s heart in something. In Shakespeare’s Othello (1604), for example, Iago reassures Roderigo that he hates Othello and his heart is in getting revenge: ”My cause is hearted.”

But none of the published references in the OED use the verb “heart” in quite the same way that it’s being used these days, meaning to love.

By the way, the stylized image of a heart has been used since ancient times as a symbol of love. But the graphic designer Milton Glaser was the guy who came up with the idea of using it to represent the phrase “I love.” This was back in the 1970s, when he created the logo for the “I love New York” ad campaign.

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