Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What is a Cockle, Anyway?

So the other day I heard a rabbi talk about "the cockles of your soul." I think he was just trying to be different, because of course, the phrase is "warming the cockles of your heart." So naturally, my inward response was, "What in the world is a cockle, anyway?"

Well, notwithstanding some of the scurrilous definitions at Urban Dictionary (none of which come close to the real meaning of the phrase), it is a well worn idiom in English dating to at least the middle of the 17th century.

Quoting from the site World Wide Words: "Something that warms the cockles of one's heart induces a glow of pleasure, sympathy, affection, or some such similar emotion. What gets warmed is the innermost part of one's being. It's not that surprising that it should be associated with the heart, that being the presumed seat of the emotions for most people. But what are the cockles?"

One theory of its etymology is from the heart shape of certain bivalve mollusks, as pictured above. There are other theories, about which you can read here and here.

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