In my ‘heart of hearts’? You’re kidding, right?

February 13, 2012

In my heart of hearts

Redundancies are one of my pet peeves, as in the oft-used phrase, “in my heart of hearts.” Now, where exactly would that be? Is there really another, smaller heart inside my heart? If so, it’s news to me. And to my doctor.

I recall, however, that this expression is a line from Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, in which the title character says, “Give me that man that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him in my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of hearts as I do thee.” Hamlet’s heart of hearts is a reference to the center of  his heart, the most tender region of his affection, which he reserves for those who– like his friend Horatio — are governed by reason, not passion.

Hoping against hope

What about “hoping against hope”? I’m confused. How exactly does one go about hoping against hope? Sounds like an oxymoron to me. But what do I know?

Some say this hackneyed phrase means to hope very strongly that something will happen, although you know it is not very likely. Wait a minute. To hope for what? I don’t buy it. It just doesn’t make sense.

All is not for naught

And who can forget my all-time fave, “all is not for naught”? I have read that “all for naught” means that something is all for nothing. Taking that assumption one step further, “all is not for naught” would mean all is not all for nothing. What? I believe my mother used to call that a double negative. Which makes it a positive. But don’t get me started.

Anyway, I’m not entirely satisfied with the explanations offered for these three idioms. On second thought, I will accept the explanation for the first phrase, because, after all, it is the Bard. But the other two? Not on your life.

However, when I’m feeling particularly festive, I like to string them together in a sentence and speak them aloud, so as not to forget how ridiculous they sound. I try to say it like I really mean it: “In my heart of hearts, I’m hoping against hope that all is not for naught.”


8 Responses to “In my ‘heart of hearts’? You’re kidding, right?”

  1. My boss says in my heart of hearts all the time and it drives me crazy. I’m going to tell him he can only use it if he can tell me where it comes from.


  2. Dale Short Says:

    Jane: Glad to see a figurative lance stuck into those idiocies…er, idioms. They’ve all grated on me as well.



  3. Charlotte bowman Says:

    Love this piece! Good! Wonderful


  4. VicVicVic Says:

    Hi, you had written that Hamlet said, “In my heart of hearts.” However, that is not correct. He had said, “In my heart of heart” (the second “heart” isn’t plural). Like everyone else, Hamlet only has one heart. Feel free to look this up to be certain that I am correct.


    • You are correct, and I apologize for misquoting the bard. I should have researched it better. Just goes to show you that you can’t believe everything you read online.

      Thanks for catching that.

      – Jane


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