If you know something by heart, you’ve learned it so well you know it from memory. For example: “He’s my favourite poet, I know several of his poems by heart.” This expression which surfaced in England in the late 1300s, likely comes from the Old French phrase ‘par coeur’ which literally translates to “by heart.”
To your heart’s content
If you do something to your heart’s content or desire, you do that thing until you are satisfied. Shakespeare was fond of this expression which dates from the early modern period of literature. When the phrase first entered the English language, “to your heart’s content” it was sometimes used without “heart.” Things could be done “to your content” back in the 1600s, though that trend died out within 50 years.
Eat your heart out
You might shout the slightly morbid phrase “Eat your heart out!” to someone to induce jealousy. For example, a pop star preparing for a performance might look in the mirror, and liking his reflection, cheekily shout “Eat your heart out fans!”
Have your heart in your mouth
Have your heart in your mouth refers to a heightened state of anxiety or fear. There are many things that might bring your ‘heart all the way up to your mouth’ including a fear of spiders, public speaking or roller coasters!
Cross your heart
If you verbally cross your heart, you do it to maintain the truth of what you just said. You can take this one step further by adding “and hope to die.” For example: “I didn’t eat the last piece of cake. Cross my heart and hope to die!” This expression, which has been used throughout the 20th century comes from the religious practice of tracing a cross over the heart with a finger to signify a vow.
Wear your heart on your sleeve
This phrase may derive from a custom during medieval times. Knights are said to have worn the colours of the lady they were supporting, in cloths or ribbons tied to their arms. Today we use it to make our intimate feelings known to all, leaving yourself vulnerable to being emotionally hurt. The phrase can also refer to the tendency to fall in love easily.
Break someone’s heart
If you break someone’s heart, you cause them great disappointment or sorrow. For example: “My boyfriend broke my heart but I’ll never forget him.” This expression dates back to the 1500s, though the term ‘heartbreak’ is more than 200 years older.
Find out more about EC Covent Garden’s Adult English Courses