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How the heart became ♥

We use the heart emoji to like Instagram photos and tweets, but where did it come from?

The heart symbol has made its way into our daily lives. It's in our emoji, our Valentine's Day cards, and our chocolates. It even caused an uproar when Twitter changed its "favorite" button to a "like" button, replacing the star symbol with a ruby red heart. But why doesn't it look like the real thing?

Zachary Crockett at Priceonomics has looked into the history of the symbol.

He says that there are relics resembling the heart shape from 3000 BC. But these shapes stood for ivy or fig leaves, not the heart. It wasn’t until several centuries later that the heart became a symbol representing “love.”

But the problem was, they didn’t really know what the heart looked like partially because the Catholic church prohibited autopsies. So when artists tried to draw the heart as a symbol of love, like in this French manuscript from 1250 it looked ... like this.

Roman de la Poire
Atelier du Maître de Bari via Wikimedia Commons

By the time detailed anatomical drawings appeared, like those of Leonardo Da Vinci in the early 16th century, the simplified symbol had already taken root. It became a popular image in Catholic symbolism as well as secular things like decks of cards.

Eventually New York City’s 1977 campaign turned the heart symbol into a verb, ”I ♥ New York!”

Now it’s used in everything romantic: Valentine’s Day cards, emojis, chocolate. But you can also find it in video games, on Twitter, and in ads for heart healthy food.

It might be a poor likeness for the human heart, but that’s what makes it such an enduring and versatile symbol.

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