Friday, November 23, 2007

Just what are "Cockles??"

In a previous comment, Church Lady brought up an interesting question.

"...not sure what 'cockles' means, but Orion used it on my blog and whenever I hear a new vocabulary word, I try to use it often."

Well, CL, here you go! From World Wide Words:

It’s one of the more lovely idioms in the language, isn’t it? 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?

We’re not sure. We do know that the expression turns up first in the middle of the seventeenth century, and that the earliest form of the idiom was rejoice the cockles of one’s heart.

Cockles are a type of bivalve mollusc (see above pic), once a staple part of the diet for many British people (you may recall that Sweet Molly Malone once wheeled her wheelbarrow through Dublin’s fair city, crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh!”). They are frequently heart-shaped (their formal zoological genus was at one time Cardium, of the heart), with ribbed shells.

It may be that the shape and spiral ribbing of the ventricles of the heart reminded surgeons of the two valves of the cockle. But I can’t find an example of the word cockle being applied to the heart outside this expression, which makes me suspicious of this explanation. It may be that the shape of the cockleshell, suggesting the heart as it so obviously does, gave rise to cockles of the heart as an expansion.

Any more questions, Church Lady? Don't hesitate to ask.


Church Lady said...


Remind me to never play scrabble with you!!
That was funny and informative!
Thanks!! :-)

Mary Cunningham said...

Scrabble? Yeah, me and the Internet! A deadly combination!