• Love heart cookie cutter

4 theories on the origin of the love heart

Have you ever wondered why this ubiquitous shape has come to symbolise universal love? As it takes up residence in every shop window from Lands' End to John O'Groats in advance of Valentine's Day, we present some of the theories as to the origins of the world's first emoji - the red love heart.

1. IT’S A VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF THE HUMAN HEART

The most common theory for why the love heart looks the way it does is that it’s a representation – a very cleaned up, substantially less icky, lumpy, bumpy, gooey representation – of our blood-pumping vital organ. It started with the Greeks, who believed that the mind was the centre of all logic, and the heart – situated in the middle of our chests – the centre of all emotion and home to the soul. Naturally they leant more than a dash of artistic interpretation to their visualisation of this beating muscle, but as the world's first Olympians they could do whatever they liked...



2. IT'S A VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF THE FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS

Turn the female reproductive system upside down and it’s easy to see where the theory emerged that it inspired the love heart symbol. The earliest known use of ‘women’s bits’ to symbolise love is found in graffiti and engravings still visible among the relics of Pompeii brothels. A simplified version of the vulva was a popular tattoo among sailors, who got inked in port after first having their wicked way with the prostitutes who supplied services there. This of course raised awkward questions when they eventually went home to their wives; rather than admit that their inkings were souvenirs of fun on dry land, they shrugged them off as ‘symbols of love’. Aye-aye, captain!


FACT

The heart symbol was first used as a lologram for the verb "to love" in the Big Apple promotional campaign of 1977, popularised by the IheartNY T-Shirt.



3. IT LOOKS LIKE THE SEED OF AN ANCIENT HERBAL CONTRACEPTIVE!

An extinct herb not dissimilar to parsley might not be the most romantic inspiration for the love heart symbol, but there’s more than a little evidence that the culinary additive and topical ointment silphium was behind this ubiquitous shape. One of its core uses – aside from wart removal and pain relief from leprosy - was as a birth control: Mediterranean physicians would prescribe it to women the day after love-making in order to prevent conception. We also know that this rather innocuous little plant became so important to the economy of the country now known as Libya that it adorned the currency of the day. The familiar double-tear shape of its seed are undeniably similar to that of the love heart. 



FACT

The heart shape as we know it actually existed before it came to mean all things related to love - possibly in or around the 1400s. Before this time, the symbol represented the vine leaf and was mostly used to represent Dionysus, the Greek God of wine, fertility and ecstasy.


4. IT CAME TO A 17TH-CENTURY SAINT IN A HOLY VISION

Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque was a French nun and mystic born in the late 17th century into a life of poverty. Throughout her childhood she reported regularly being visited by visualisations of Jesus Christ with a beating heart filled with love – a symbol which became known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus and was associated with religious love and devotion. Such was Saint Margaret’s holiness that her very presence was said to cure disabled people, and upon her death she was canonized by the Pope. Images of love hearts began to pop up in stained glass windows and religious art around this time, though scholars dispute that this was the first appearance of this universal shape.


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Author: Rebecca

Rebecca lives in London with her husband, daughter and dachshund. She hopes her dating blogs for Flame Introductions will inspire you to seek out the best London and UK locations for brilliant dates, and discover some tips along the way to help you find your perfect partner.