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What Does "Have a Heart" Mean?

Cynde Gregory
Cynde Gregory

As anyone who has ever read a book, watched television, or spoken to two other people knows, the world is pretty evenly divided between people who are compassionate and understanding and those who really don’t want to hear it. A quick glance back through the mists of time may not identify exactly when people began using the human heart as a metaphor for love or kindness, but there’s no question that, in every language, it’s a central image for exactly that. People who look cross-eyed at anyone who begs for forgiveness or understanding are often told, “Have a heart!”

Here’s one idiom that makes perfect sense. Someone who cares for nothing but money and power is often described as heartless, an idiom that has become so commonly used no one stops to consider it is really a compound word and a metaphor in itself. At the same time, perhaps this heartless individual suffered a loss or pain so profound that it caused him or her to harden or steel his or her heart against future pain. After all, a heart that can’t be pierced is a heart that can’t be broken.

The phrase "have a heart" refers to the heart's traditonal role as the seat of emotions.
The phrase "have a heart" refers to the heart's traditonal role as the seat of emotions.

There can be a fine line between an individual who is, at heart, so cold that blood doesn’t seem to run in his or her veins and one who is simply doing what must be done. A group of employees who are given the pink slip might regard the boss who handed them out as unfeeling. In actuality, it’s possible the boss had no heart for letting everyone go and was forced to do so by his or her own superior. Such a boss would no doubt regret it from the bottom of his or her heart.

The entreaty to have a heart isn’t always leveled at malicious bosses or coldhearted lovers. Many idioms, especially common ones, have two levels of use. The first is what the idiom was originally intended to mean. At some point, however, it’s only natural that a wag will spin the idiom into a bit of a joke.

This is one such expression and is as often used playfully or mockingly as not. A boyfriend who knows his beloved won’t give him more than a single kiss might plead with her to have a heart. A soccer fan might moan, “Have a heart,” when a call is made that means doom to the team. A high school teacher might ask a popular but rude student who persists in tormenting less popular ones to have a heart.

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Discussion Comments


In some cultures, each part of the body is related to some particular type of emotion, feeling or personality trait. The heart for example is related with caring and sensitivity as mentioned in the article.

The heart is also associated with courage and persistence. An athlete who hustles and performs to his full potential, especially when he faces better competition, is often said to have heart.


There is a great song by Bonnie Raitt titled "Have a Heart." I think the song was part of the soundtrack for a movie in the eighties or nineties, but I'm not certain about that.

Either way, the Have a Heart lyrics give a perfect definition of the term have a heart, and the lyrics describe the actions one might expect from a person who does not have a heart. As I said, it is a great song and worth looking up. You can find the original video and live performances online.


I can remember a cousin once telling me that my father was a man with a hard heart. I guess that was another way of saying he didn't have a heart. Until then, I had never seen my father in that light. I think some people, especially men, show the world one side of themselves, but once they are at home and surrounded by their families they show another side.

When it came to his immediate family, my father was not lacking in the heart department, but after my cousin made that statement I began to look at my father from a different perspective. Once I did that, I had a better understanding of what my cousin meant.

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    • The phrase "have a heart" refers to the heart's traditonal role as the seat of emotions.
      By: digitex
      The phrase "have a heart" refers to the heart's traditonal role as the seat of emotions.