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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Words of the day — heartstring

Good morning, Netizens...

February 14, 2013

Word of the Day

  • heartstring
  • audio pronunciation
  • \HAHRT-string\


: the deepest emotions or affections — usually used in plural

"Thou touchest my inmost centre, boy; thou art tied to me by cords woven of my heart-strings." — From Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, 1851

"This former Indy icon still tugs on the heartstrings of local baby boomers, who recall cruising into the drive-ins for a Big Chief burger, onion rings and a milkshake." — From an article by Jolene Ketzenberger in The Indianapolis Star, January 11, 2013


Before a song or movie or heart-shaped card accompanied by a box of chocolates could tug at your heartstrings, the job was more likely to be accomplished by a surgeon: the word "heartstring" used to refer to a nerve believed to sustain the heart. (The metaphor is a bit more apparent in the Melville quote above than it is in most modern uses.) You might recognize the word's second syllable in the term "hamstring," which refers to both a group of tendons at the back of the knee and to any of three muscles at the backs of the upper legs. It's also apparent in a rare dialect term for the Achilles' tendon: "heel string." And in light of these terms, it's not surprising to know that "string" itself was at one time used independently to refer to cords like tendons and ligaments.


Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.