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Learn by heart

Posted by R. Berg on March 18, 2003

In Reply to: Learn by heart posted by ESC on March 17, 2003

: : : I am trying to find out the origin of the phrase, "Know by heart". Can you help?

: : You can try this item from the archive ( bulletin_board 16 messages 184.html), though it doesn't say much.

: LEARN BY HEART - "How does it happen we say we learn things 'by heart' instead of 'by head'? It's because of a mistaken analysis of anatomical functions made by the ancient Greeks. They placed the seat of thought in the heart." LEARN BY ROTE - "What is the reason we use the phrase 'learn by rote' to indicate learning by repetition? This phrase means 'to learn by the wheel' - from 'rota,' the L*tin word for 'wheel.' The allusion is to turning the thought over and over in the mind or saying it over and over again, in much the same way as a wheel goes around." From "Why do we say it? The stories behind the words, expressions and cliches we use," (no author listed), Castle Books, Edison, N.J., 1985.

: Another source seems to imply that the two terms are the same but I believe that's incorrect: "Learn. Learn by heart, To. To 'learn by rote'; to memorize. Learn by rote, To. To learn by means of repetition, i.e., by going over the same track again and again. Rote has been associated with route, but there is no good authority for this." From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition).

: I think that learning something "by heart" implies a deeper level of learning than learning "by rote." If a person knows something by heart, it is internalized. Any thoughts on that?

Yes--I agree that those two are different. "By rote" is a method of learning: mere repetition. Something learned "by heart" may have been learned by any method, possibly by rote but not necessarily, and is now known perfectly.