Remember the day your teacher tries to tell you the heart looks like a chunk of beef?
Eighth grade science class. You’re learning about human anatomy: the lungs, kidneys, spleen. Then out of nowhere your teacher tries to tell you the heart looks like a chunk of beef, and not the elegant two top hills that taper to a point you had come to know and love.
So why do we draw hearts the way we do? And how the heck did a muscle responsible for pumping blood throughout our body become a symbol for love, anyway?
The ancient Greeks were likely the first ones to associate the heart with emotions, which is the most likely origin of why we use it to represent love today. Artists in the Middle Ages then used the heart symbol to represent love for Jesus Christ and drew it into Christian paintings. The Catholic Church’s continued use of the heart shape to mean love is what popularized its use.
So why doesn’t the heart symbol look like an actual heart?
Some believe the shape came from the seed of the now extinct silphium plant, which was used in the ancient African city-state of Cyrene (631 B.C. to 300 A.D.) as a form of contraception. The seed looks just like a Valentine heart, so it’s not a stretch to think that it transitioned from being associated with sex, then love. Its popularity as a symbol of romantic love exploded in 14th Century England, when romantic courtships were more accepted. Four centuries later, Valentine’s Day was well established as a holiday devoted to sending your loved one flowers, treats, and cards with the heart symbol on it.
So while it’s not entirely clear where the heart shape came from, what is known is how important it is to Valentine’s Day. Americans are estimated to spend more than $19.5 billions on the day.