It's one of the first things you learn to draw, or cut out of paper, and it represents fully half of all the feelings you've ever had(?), but where does it come from? And why does "<3" stand for "love?" Wikipedia lists a few of the at least millions of possibilities:
"The seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive, has been suggested as the source of the heart symbol." Sure, this theory checks out in some of the oldest images of this seed — those found on ancient Cyrenaic (now Libya) coins. However, if you look up a plain old "silphium seed" the results are less convincing. Also, the "contraceptive" part?
"The heart symbol could also be considered to depict features of the human female body, such as the female's buttocks, pubic mound, or spread vulva." Well now, that's quite romantic, but it really depends whose whats we're talking about when and where, you know?
"The heart symbol could also be derived from the shape made by swans' necks in a courting ritual, which resembles the heart shape." Awww, adorable. Doubt it.
"Inverted heart symbols have been used in heraldry as stylized testicles (coglioni in Italian) as in the canting arms of the Colleonis of Milan." What? No. Pull your head out of your ass, Wikipedia.
"Some speculate the heart shape first came to symbolize love when Joseph put his arms around the Virgin Mary to feel The Lord kick. As he looked down, he saw his hands had formed the shape we know, and love, to this day." Just kidding, I made that one up.
What if it just has something to do with the two ventricles of the actual heart and one terrible ancient medical illustrator?
Coin image via.