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Learn by heart

Posted by ESC on October 10, 2000

In Reply to: Learning by heart posted by Art Gittleman on October 09, 2000

: My daughter was wondering where the expression "learn by heart" comes from. We focus on the brain for learning these days.

LEARN BY HEART - When a student "learns by rote," he or she may be able to recite the words but might not necessary understand what the words mean. A student who learns something by heart understands the concept of the lesson. The lesson is internalized and becomes part of the person's working knowledge. Mr. Hendrickson has this explanation of the phrase: "The ancient Greeks believed that the heart, the most noticeable internal organ, was the seat of intelligence and memory as well as emotion. This belief was passed on down the ages and became the basis for the English expression 'learn by heart,' which is used by Chaucer and must have been proverbial long before that. 'To record' reminds us again of this ancient belief in the heart as the seat of the mind. When writing wasn't a simple act, things had to be memorized; thus we have the word 'record,' formed from the Latin 're,' 'again,' and 'cor,' 'heart,' which means exactly the same as 'learn by heart.'" From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)