Q: Where does the phrase “warm the cockles of my heart” come from and what does it really mean?
A: You’ve heard of cockleshells? Well, cockles, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are bivalve mollusks “common on sandy coasts, and much used for food.” This creature has been known as a “cockle” since the late 1390s.
Some etymologists think the 17th-century phrase “cockles of one’s heart” may come from the heart’s resemblance to a cockleshell.
Others think it may have something to do with the Greek-derived zoological name for the cockle, Cardium (“of the heart”).
And still others, as the OED says, have sought its origin in the Latin corculum, a diminutive of cor, or “heart.”
Whatever the origin, hearts have had cockles ever since. Here are some of the OED citations:
1671, in the writings of John Eachard: “This contrivance of his did inwardly rejoice the cockles of his heart.”
1739, in Roger Bull’s translation of Dedekindus’ Grobianus: “O! how you’d please the Cockles of my Heart.”
1792, in a letter of Sir Walter Scott: “An expedition … which would have delighted the very cockles of your heart.”
1858, from a letter of Charles Darwin: “I have just had the innermost cockles of my heart rejoiced by a letter from Lyell.”
The modern expression, as the OED points out, is “to warm the cockles of one’s heart.” It means to raise one’s spirits or give one pleasure.
Buy our books at a local store, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.