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Words We're Watching

We ♥ the Verb 'Heart'

Increasingly, people are using 'heart' as a verb


At first it was a mere symbol: ♥

We can thank the graphic designer Milton Glaser for helping that symbol become a verb. You've probably seen his most famous design, which debuted in 1977 and is credited with revitalizing a city: I ♥ NY.

heart-key

'Heart' didn't really take off until people had easy access to the ♥ symbol on their phones and computers.

In the television ads that went along with the graphic, people said "I love New York," not "I heart New York," but earliest evidence of this use of heart is linked directly to a literal reading of the graphic.

But 1977 was a long time ago, and for most of the intervening years we were not using heart as a verb. In the Merriam-Webster files we have a smattering of evidence of "I heart x" from before this century, but it really wasn't until the current millennium that we started seeing more regular evidence of the use in print.

The verb heart was likely helped a great deal by a 2004 movie advertised on posters and promotional material as "I ♥ Huckabees" but widely called "I Heart Huckabees." Reviews of the movie at the time referred to the movie as "I ♥ Huckabees" much of the time, but "I Heart Huckabees" was also used, most notably by industry mag Variety. A few reviewers preferred "I (Love) Huckabees," and some ignored the symbol altogether, going with "I Huckabees."

When people refer to the movie today, it's "I Heart Huckabees," and that heart verb doesn't bother us a bit. The symbol that the reviews didn't have the font to reproduce is now available to us on our phones and Internet keyboards. We often read it as "heart," but its meaning is clear: love.

Words We're Watching talks about words we are increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met our criteria for entry.


Seen and Heard