(Have you got the) heart to heart?

Twitter announced yesterday that it would be ‘changing [its] star icon for favorites to a heart and […] calling them likes‘, and already tweeters are hearting all over. Wait: the WordPress spellchecker has just underlined that — hearting.

Indeed, Twitter’s change of policy may, on the face of it, be credited with the emergence of a new usage: heart as a verb, meaning like:

Given the novelty of the usage, some add precautionary quotes:

Just as the heart icon comes in lieu of the star, the verb heart is clearly a replacement of the old(er) verb favorite or fave:

Favorite as a verb was already a clear case of ‘verbing’, ie. turning a part of speech (here an adjective) into a verb. Social media are known for encouraging such transmogrifications: friend became a verb via Facebook, add was nouned on Myspace. Some objectors, therefore, will prefer Twitter’s new choice of like:

But that kind of fluidity between grammatical categories has always been a feature of English, and is how a lot of perfectly standard words have come into the language.

Heart would seem to have followed suit:

(You can still sense a bit of that old ‘verbing is wrong’ attitude in the latter tweet.)

However, heart has been a verb1 for quite some time — since Old English, according to the OED, which cites a variety of early, obsolete or rare meanings, such as ‘give courage’ (similar to Present-Day English hearten), ‘soothe’, or ‘utter from the heart’ (as speech verb):

1642   S. Ashe Best Refuge 48   It will not be sufficient to say a Prayer..or to word it before the Lord; but we should rather heart it before God in holy prayer.

Some of those are rather specialized (eg. vegetable growing), and quite a few are mainly confined to the passive voice:

1884   R. Browning Two Camels in Ferishtah’s Fancies 84
The richness hearted in such joy Is in the knowing what are gifts we give.

I know this may very well be a losing battle against some:

But the verb heart also has a much more recent usage, originating in the 1970’s from the habit of replacing like with a heart on T-shirts, postcards and other tourist-trapping paraphernalia:

trans. colloq. (orig. U.S.). To love; to be fond of.
Originally and chiefly with reference to logos using the symbol of a heart to denote the verb ‘love’: see quot. 1983.

[1983 Gaz. (Montreal) 3 May c8/1 I’m delighted to see there’s finally been a revolt against the annoying use of a stylized little red heart in place of the word ‘love’—as in ‘I (heart) New York’.]
[…]
1998 Houston Chron. 10 May (Chronilog section) 7/1, I think he’s so cute. I heart him to bits.

(OED online, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/85069?rskey=GQwJ14&result=2#eid)

Yet, to heart in the Twitter sense is not just to love: it means showing appreciation of a tweet by clicking the heart-shaped icon underneath it. In this respect, it is used exactly in the same way as Facebook’s like: as an action verb, rather than an emotion verb (Ted liked my post doesn’t mean he enjoyed it, much less that he doesn’t like it any more; just that he communicated his appreciation for or interest in my post via Facebook’s Like button). In a way, heart‘s nascent usage is closer to an older meaning of the verb heart, whose earliest instance seems to come from (yes, him) Shakespeare (Othello 1.3.365):

To establish or fix in the heart; to take to heart. In later use with in (a person, a person’s head, etc.). Cf. hearted adj. 4. Now rare.

(Ibid.)

All in all, Twitter’s official term ‘like’ may not catch on at all. People have just got so used to Twitter and Facebook’s terminological battle (like vs. favoritefriend vs. followshare vs. retweet) that they are now keen on differentiating them. Also, Twitter’s favorite button was not necessarily used to show that one liked a tweet, but as a sign that one found it interesting, or as a bookmark for future reference. So my heart goes to heart.

1Of course one should not confuse the verb with compound adjectives such as broken-hearted or light-hearted, which have nothing verbal to them — no more than hair is a verb in dark-haired, or eye in blue-eyed.

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