Heart and brain, two houses for the memory

Dear readers and followers,

Have you ever thought of the differences between languages according to how they classify reality? There are plenty even between languages with a common root, but let’s see what I exactly have in mind in this case. Yesterday I used an expression that is quite common in English and I remembered how differently this language and mine, Italian, think of memory and thoughts in some cases.  Let me explain it. The sentence that triggered everything was

To have a change of heart

equivalent to

Changing one’s mind.

This example reminded me of another one where the heart is used instead of the brain:

To learn something by heart


To memorise something.

What is the reason behind these expressions using the heart? The roots are in the Latin language, which considered the heart, the constantly beating organ that was the base of life, as the house of memory and thoughts. This original idea, also shared by Aristoteles, in clear in the Latin verb for remember, recŏrdari, which is formed by the prefix re- and the word heart (re- + cor, cordis)* and literally means to bring back to the heart. While the English language does not use this root for the verb to remember, it still uses to record to mean “to write (something) down so that it can be used or seen again in the future : to produce a record of (something).” ** This etymology is also evident in some Italian words (and Spanish as well) ricordare (remember, ITA),  ricordo and recuerdo (a memory, ITA and SPA), and recordatorio (reminder, SPA).

Going back to the initial sentences, the French language also uses this image to express the idea of memorising something:

Apprendre par cœur

Maybe on the border between the thoughts and the feelings, and this is my personal opinion, is the Spanish expression

Tener una corazonada

Which means to have a presentiment, but it expresses it by using the root corazón, the Spanish word for heart.

Do you have more examples for these languages or for any other that you know?

For now it’s all but… don’t forget to keep being naughty, Knotty surely will!!!

*  Etymology from Treccani

** Definition from Merriam Webster


Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Raquel Madrid

     /  02/10/2015

    In Basque we learn “by head”: Buruz ikasi (buru = head)
    and we also have impressions “by heart”: bihozkada izan (bihotz = heart)



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