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The meaning and origin of the expression: Half-hearted


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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Half-hearted'?

Having one's intentions divided; not fully committed; lacking zeal or courage.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Half-hearted'?

Half-heartedIt might be thought that 'half-hearted' is a diminutive form of the more commonly used term 'whole-hearted'. In fact, it is the other way about. Both are of English origin. 'Whole-hearted' first saw the light of day in the 19th century, while 'half-hearted' is medieval. 'Half-hearted' is a derivative of the slightly earlier 'faint-hearted'.

The metaphorical concept of 'heart' is at the root of faint-hearted and half-hearted. To the medieval way of thinking, the heart was the source of a person's being and the belief of the time was that the physical state of one's heart controlled one's demeanour. The later term 'whole-hearted' refers to a later meaning of 'heart', which was 'courage; manliness'.

The earliest examples of these phrases that I have found are:

- Faint-hearted: In the first English-Latin dictionary The Promptorium Parvulorum, circa 1440:
"Feynt hertyd, vecors".

- Half-hearted: In John Florio's Italian-English dictionary Queen Anna's New World of Words, 1611:
"Semicorde, a coward, halfe-hearted".

- Whole-hearted: In Golden Scepter, John Preston, circa 1628 :
"A man that is still whole hearted ever since hee was borne, and never affrighted with sinne and wrath".

See also: the meaning and origin of 'hard-hearted'.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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