Understanding the Idiom: "heart of hearts" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When we want to express our deepest feelings or beliefs, we often use idioms to convey them. One such idiom is “heart of hearts,” which refers to the innermost part of ourselves where our truest thoughts and emotions reside.

The Meaning behind “Heart of Hearts”

The phrase “heart of hearts” can be interpreted in different ways depending on context. It can refer to a person’s most sincere intentions, desires, or convictions that they keep hidden from others. Alternatively, it can describe a person’s intuition or gut feeling about something.

Usage and Examples

“Heart of hearts” is commonly used in literature, poetry, and everyday conversation. Here are some examples:

  • Literature: In William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the character Gertrude says: “But I do prophesy th’ election lights / On Fortinbras; he has my dying voice. / So tell him with th’ occurrents more and less / Which have solicited – the rest is silence.” This passage suggests that Gertrude believes Fortinbras would make a good king despite her son Hamlet’s objections because she knows it in her heart of hearts.
  • Poetry: In Emily Dickinson’s poem “‘Hope’ Is The Thing With Feathers,” she writes: “Yet never in extremity / It asked a crumb – Of Me.” This line implies that hope doesn’t demand anything from us but resides within us as an unspoken truth in our heart of hearts.
  • Everyday Conversation: A friend might say to another friend who is hesitant about pursuing their dream job: “I know you’re scared, but deep down in your heart of hearts, you know this is what you want.”

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “heart of hearts”

The phrase “heart of hearts” is a common idiom used to describe one’s deepest, most sincere feelings or desires. It is often used in emotional contexts, such as when expressing love or regret. While the exact origins of this phrase are unclear, it has been in use for centuries and can be found in literature dating back to at least the 16th century.

One theory about the origin of this idiom suggests that it may have come from ancient beliefs about the heart being the center of emotions and thoughts. In medieval times, it was commonly believed that all emotions were controlled by the heart rather than the brain. This belief persisted into later centuries and may have contributed to the development of phrases like “heartfelt” or “from the bottom of my heart.”

Another possible explanation for this idiom’s origins lies in its use within religious texts. The Bible frequently refers to God searching people’s hearts to determine their true intentions and desires. This idea may have influenced how people thought about their own innermost feelings, leading them to use phrases like “heart of hearts” when describing their sincerest emotions.

Regardless of its precise origins, there is no denying that “heart of hearts” has become a widely recognized expression used across cultures and languages today. Its continued popularity speaks to our ongoing fascination with understanding our own inner selves and connecting with others on an emotional level.

To further explore how this idiom has been used throughout history, let us examine some examples from literature:

Examples from Literature

In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Prince Hamlet says: “I will speak daggers to her but use none; My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites; How in my words soever she be shent, To give them seals never my soul consent!” Here he uses “heart of heart” to mean the most sincere and truest part of himself.

In Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet says: “I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.” Here she uses “heart of hearts” to express her true feelings about a character she admires.


The idiom “heart of hearts” has been used for centuries to describe one’s deepest emotions and desires. While its exact origins are uncertain, it likely stems from ancient beliefs about the heart being the center of emotions or from religious texts referring to God searching people’s hearts. Its continued use in literature and everyday speech attests to its enduring popularity across cultures.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “heart of hearts”

One way “heart of hearts” is commonly used is to describe someone’s deepest feelings or desires. This could refer to a person’s true intentions or motivations behind their actions. For example, if someone says “in my heart of hearts, I know I made the right decision,” they are expressing their innermost conviction about what they believe is best.

Another variation of this idiom is to use it as a way to emphasize sincerity or honesty. Saying something like “I swear on my heart of hearts that I am telling the truth” implies that the speaker truly believes what they are saying and would never intentionally deceive anyone.

In some cases, “heart of hearts” can also be used in a more negative context. For instance, if someone says “deep down in his heart of hearts, he knows he’s wrong,” it suggests that despite outwardly denying fault or wrongdoing, the individual secretly acknowledges their mistakes.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “heart of hearts”


Some possible synonyms for “heart of hearts” include:

– Innermost being

– Deepest feelings

– Core beliefs

– True self

– Authenticity

These words capture the essence of what it means to know oneself deeply and honestly. They suggest a sense of introspection and self-awareness that is central to the meaning of the idiom.


On the other hand, some antonyms for “heart of hearts” might be:

– Surface level

– Superficial emotions

– Pretense or façade

– Insincerity or dishonesty

These words represent a lack of depth or authenticity in one’s inner life. They suggest that someone who does not have a strong sense of their own heart may be living in a way that is disconnected from their true desires and values.

Cultural Insights:

The idiom “heart of hearts” has roots in ancient Greek philosophy, which emphasized the importance of knowing oneself as a path to wisdom. In many cultures around the world, there are similar expressions that speak to this idea – such as “the soul’s mirror” in Persian culture or “the seat of consciousness” in Hinduism.

In Western culture specifically, there is often an emphasis on rational thinking over emotional intelligence. This can make it challenging for people to connect with their own hearts on a deeper level. However, practices like mindfulness meditation and therapy can help individuals cultivate greater self-awareness and access their innermost selves more fully.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “heart of hearts”

Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank

In this exercise, we will provide a sentence with a blank space where the idiom “heart of hearts” should be inserted. Your task is to fill in the blank with the correct form of the idiom.

Example: I know that ____________ she loves him, she can’t bring herself to tell him.

Answer: In her heart of hearts

1. ____________, he knew that he was making a mistake.

2. She always knew that, _______________, she would never be happy without him.

3. Despite his tough exterior, _______________ he was a kind-hearted person.

Exercise 2: Using “Heart of Hearts” in Context

In this exercise, we will provide a scenario or conversation where you must incorporate the idiom “heart of hearts” into your response or statement. This exercise is designed to help you practice using the idiom in real-life situations.


Scenario: You’re talking with your friend about their decision to quit their job.

Friend: “I don’t know if quitting my job was the right thing to do.”

You: “Well, deep down in your ____________________, you knew it was time for a change.”

1. Scenario: Your friend is considering ending their long-term relationship.

Friend: “I’m not sure if I should break up with them.”


2. Scenario: You’re discussing politics with someone who has different views than you.

Person: “I just don’t understand why anyone would vote for [opposing political party].”

You: “Well, _________________, they have their reasons for supporting that party.”

Exercise 3: Identifying the Meaning of “Heart of Hearts”

In this exercise, we will provide a sentence or phrase where the idiom “heart of hearts” is used. Your task is to identify the meaning of the idiom in each context.

Example: She knew in her heart of hearts that he was not telling the truth.

Meaning: The deepest part of one’s conscience or intuition.

1. He always knew in his heart of hearts that he would never be able to achieve his dreams.


2. Despite her tough exterior, she knew in her heart of hearts that she was deeply hurt by his actions.


3. In your heart of hearts, you know that you need to apologize for what you said.


These exercises are just a few examples to help improve your understanding and use of the idiom “heart of hearts”. Practice using this idiom regularly to become more comfortable incorporating it into your everyday conversations.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “heart of hearts”

When using idioms, it’s important to understand their meanings and how they are used in context. The idiom “heart of hearts” is no exception. This phrase is often used to express a person’s true feelings or beliefs, but there are some common mistakes that people make when using it.

Mistake #1: Confusing “heart of hearts” with “heartfelt”

One common mistake is confusing “heart of hearts” with the word “heartfelt.” While both words relate to emotions, they have different meanings. Heartfelt refers to something that is sincere or deeply felt, while heart of hearts refers specifically to a person’s innermost thoughts or feelings.

Mistake #2: Using the phrase too casually

The idiom “heart of hearts” should be used sparingly and only in situations where a person truly wants to convey their deepest thoughts or feelings. Using this phrase too casually can diminish its impact and make it seem insincere.

To summarize, when using the idiom “heart of hearts,” avoid confusing it with similar phrases like heartfelt and use it sparingly in order to convey your truest emotions.

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