Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cockles of the Heart

(This cartoon brought to you courtesy of Stephanie Brooks.)

We hear people use the phrase "cockles of the heart" all of the time, but what does it mean? In light of the medical discussion (which I will finish soon, I promise!), I thought it a pertinent time to find out.

Turns out that no one knows for certain where or when the saying originated, but theories abound. It may be from the latin description "cochleae cordis" which was used to describe the chambers of the heart. This seems likely because the prevailing opinion at the time seemed to have been that the venticles of the heart resembled mollusks, refered to as cochleae, or cockles.

It's possible that the comparison between heart and mussel worked the other way, that the shells resembled the heart, but then why wouldn't the heart be refered to as "cardium"? Food for thought. There was a popular Irish song called "Molly Malone" circa the 1880s, which was about a street vendor of the title name who sold "cockles and mussels" from her wheelbarrow on the streets of Dublin. There is now even a statue of the fictional woman on one of the city's streetcorners.


  1. Cardium sounds like cardiac which is a medical reference to the heart. So which came first.

  2. Both "cardium" and "cardiac" come from the Greek word "kardia", meaning heart. "Cordis", as in the above-mentioned cochleae cordis, also means heart, but this time in Latin. The phrase means roughly "little shellfish of the heart".