Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Possible Origins of The Heart Shape

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.

35 Comments / Post A Comment


The one thing I really liked about The DaVinci Code was it opened my eyes to the fact that drawn/cartoon hearts look more like vulvas than like the body part that shares their name.

The Lady of Shalott

What does it symbolize if I am still mostly incapable of drawing a heart shape? Mostly mine slant to one side or the other or just look vaguely fucked-up.

And what does it symbolize if I spent all of third grade with my best friend drawing hearts with princess hats, smiling faces, and legs? And occasionally arms


@The Lady of Shalott It means you were very cute kids. I spent most of my time at that age drawing my budgie with superpowers.


@dale I drew mostly dragons. Dragons that had suspiciously equine anatomy.


@miwome Well, we can't *really* know what they looked like, right, since they've all vanished? So maybe your drawings weren't that far off!


The reason google image searching "silphium seed" is less than convincing is because the ancient variety is now extinct. It was actually over harvested for its contraceptive qualities, and no longer exists! Hence why modern varieties do not exhibit the recognizable heart shape. It was supposedly very effective!

Here's the link to the "Straight Dope" about it: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2676/did-the-ancient-romans-use-a-natural-herb-for-birth-control

Jane Marie

@DullHypothesis oh no! we should definitely bring it back.

P.S. Please don't hate me

@Jane Marie Yes! This should be priority over mammoths, guys!


@Jane Marie I think they tried? Let's get the best scientists working on this, Jurassic Park style. I'll get working on the book/screen play.

"You bred...silphium?" :DRAMATIC MUSIC SWELLS:


@DullHypothesis And then an orgy scene?

dj pomegranate

@DullHypothesis And then Congress fights over whether insurance should cover it. :(


@Megan Patterson@facebook



I hate to threadjack, but I just read Esther's comic, particularly the part where she implies being a 35 year old single woman is some point of crazy desperation, and I gotta say, asshole move, hairpin. SUPER asshole move. And I'm not 35, or single.


@rogerdogs If you hate to do it, then don't, and take it to the appropriate thread.


@DullHypothesis done!


I always thought it was because you were saying "<3 people is enough, now that ∃(x) : P(x) = you ∪ me"


@leon.saintjean Set theory! On a day like today! Woo no further!

Alibi Jones

@leon.saintjean This seems right. Occam's Razor and all.


It's not just you, Heartshape, most things remind me of butts.


@whizz_dumb ))<<>>((


@travelmugs ∞


@whizz_dumb ɷ


@ilikemints I designed an asymmetrical/italicized version of that (cardioid microphone pattern?) and it is everything: a butt, boobs, flacid penis + balls, goggles, 1 wave, inflatable plastic hammer toy, etc. I'm spending my time on these juvenile things, and proud of it.


The real question, for me, is not whether the heart-shape originated as a depiction of the anatomical heart, but why the heart should be assumed to be the seat of love anyway. I feel it in my stomach and my crotch.


@rararuby I also get it behind my eyes sometimes.




I thought it was because of tomatoes? But that might have just been a weird assumption I made at ten years old when Highlights for Children told me that people used to call tomatoes "love apples" and thought they were poisonous.


@figwiggin You're making that up. Or Highlights for Children did. One or the other. Why would anyone think tomatoes were poisonous and simultaneously love apples? Also, why are there so many fruits/veggies named after apples? IE: pomme de terre en francais for potato? Apple of the Earth? I don't think so.


@figwiggin @SheWhoReadsInSkirts

1) I remember reading that Highlights for Children.

*ahem Ask A Speculating Anthropologist*

2) I think it might have something to do with the fact that people are giving new things names related to old things/things in the same social category.

An example from Not-Europe: In Crow, there is elk and realelk. And I am really sorry I can't remember what the animals actually are- I think Elk= Elk and RealElk= deer?. And dog and realdog, which I think are dog and horse. (I am really sorry- I can't find a dictionary online, and my memory on this is hazy). And people will call their cars "ponies" sometimes, now, in a metaphorical way.

So, basically when new items were introduced and became widely used, the word associated is linked to the item that served the same purpose previously.

And I promise to ask the person who knows these things and come back later and confirm I didn't just mangle this for you.

And as for the Love Apple part... welllll so was chocolate considered aphrodesiac. So, EXOTIC OTHER PEOPLE AND THEIR EXOTIC OTHER FOOD IS EXOTIC AND DANGEROUS AND ALSO SEX.

/Ask A Speculating Anthropologist


@PistolPackinMama Just wanted to +1 this, as I also think it's a case of, "huh, this...thing you brought from Peru is sort of round, and edible...which, so are apples, so maybe it's a kind of an apple*...and it grows in the ground? Huh." "Hey, Georges, what was THAT thing?" "Oh, it was a ground apple." "Oh, eh."

*I don't mean to imply anybody necessarily thought of potatoes as literally all that similar to apples, but as @PistolPackinMama (to whom I almost just referred as AnthroK8, because, anthropology!) said, it's more of a social category than a specific object at moments like this. I think.

I bet if people had thought potatoes WERE more like apples, Louis XXVwhateverIVIVIX wouldn't have had such trouble getting them to eat 'em. All going around with potato flowers in his hair.


@SheWhoReadsInSkirts My email said you added another comment, but it doesn't show up here? Anyway, your point about Latin is SO TRUE and I swear I knew that and somehow forgot.

I wonder if people thought tomatoes were poisonous because they're in the nightshade family? I dunno if they even knew that, but.


@PistolPackinMama That was far too fascinating. :3


@PistolPackinMama I think I read somewhere that 'apple' just used to mean 'fruit'? Aha, this was not where I read it, but http://hotword.dictionary.com/adam-eve-apple/ So, it's more like 'earth fruit' and 'love fruit'. It sort of looks like a pomegranate (yonnic symbol) so maybe that's why?

Tomatoes are poisonous, if you eat the leaves. Because yes, nightshade family. As are potatoes - which in fact are poisonous if you don't store them properly. And OBVIOUSLY you wouldn't eat a nightshade berry, so just because it fruits doesn't mean it's for eating?

Zeki Yol@facebook

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