Heart On My Sleeve Meaning: The Story Behind Popular Phrases Involving The Heart

Besides being difficult to learn and impossible to master, the English language is riddled with countless idiomatic expressions that don’t make sense if you take them literally. ‘I wear my heart on my sleevemeaning is one of them. It could make any non-native English speakers scratch their heads and ask themselves why your heart is on your sleeves or if it’s even possible to wear your heart on your sleeves.

Other expressions that use the heart are ‘’Be still, my heart.‘’, and ‘’My heart is full.‘’ The former has a meaning that’s easy to deduce, while the latter could make someone who is hearing it for the first time ask what your heart is full of.

But for anyone whose mother tongue is English or who studied the language at an early age, they could be common expressions you hear or say without questioning the logic behind it. So, let’s look at the story behind these phrases and see how they evolved.

Do you want to know more about the English language? Read about Jobandedu‘s article on nuance in sentences.

The Heart And Its Other Uses

Our hearts are one of the essential organs in our bodies. It keeps our blood full of oxygen to circulate our bodies continuously. In simple words, it helps us live.

Being an organ doing the bloody work of our bodies, we also associated it with love or the act of falling in love. We can blame the ancient Greeks for that. But how about all the other things and sayings that we associate with the heart? What do they mean? Here are some examples of them:

  • heart of gold – it implies someone kind and generous.
  • big heart – it means the same with a heart of gold; someone who is kind and helpful.
  • heart of stone – it is a word describing someone unsympathetic.
  • cold heart – it’s almost like “heart of stone”, used to describe someone indifferent.
  • by heart – it shows that you know something by memory.
  • at heart – it also means “basically.”
  • cross my heart – it means that you’re making an oath, or you mean what you say.
  • eat your heart out – it shows negative feelings that could mean jealousy or regret.
  • be still my heart – it’s something you would tell yourself when you want to calm down.
  • my heart is full – it means that you’re feeling many strong emotions.
  • hearts on your wrist – it could mean almost the same as wearing your heart on your sleeve.
  • heart-to-heart – it’s a phrase that means candid, intimate, or personal.

Looking at this list and trying to read them from a non-English speaker’s point of view, it sounds funny and nonsensical. It’s almost like you can create your idiomatic expressions and attach a totally different meaning for them.

Do you also want to know more about other kinds of idioms? Check out what the meaning of “sight for sour eyes” is.

I Wear My Heart On My Sleeve Meaning

The Meaning 

Now, let’s take a look at a specific idiom involving the heart. When people say, ‘’I wear my heart on my sleeve,‘’ it means that they are being honest and open about some of their innermost and intimate emotions. It’s like baring your soul, which is another idiom using another widely-used word (soul) that I wouldn’t want to go into as we might go off-topic.

The Possible Origins

selective focus photography of woman doing heart hand sign
“I wear my heart on my sleeve” is possibly Shakespearean. Source: unsplash.com

The first known use of this expression is in William Shakespeare’s Othello, where Iago expressed his vulnerability to his comrade. But why did Shakespeare decide to use this metaphor to show vulnerability?

The origin of this saying probably started in the Middle Ages when sleeves weren’t a part of a garment but rather a piece of armor that protected the arms of knights. During a joust, knights would often dedicate their act to a lady of the court while sporting something she owns, like a scarf or a ribbon, which they tie around their armors’ sleeves. Unfortunately, this is only speculation, and we cannot ask Shakespeare if this is what he meant when he wrote it in Othello.

WATCH VIDEO: Wear my heart upon my sleeve – Learn English vocabulary & idioms with ‘Shakespeare Speaks.’

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In Popular Culture

So, whether or not Shakespeare was the first person who used the expression ‘’I wear my heart on my sleeve,‘’ people just went along and used it in their conversations without questioning.

You can even see it in some romantic movies in scenes where one character is confessing their love for another. This phrase is also prevalent in song lyrics, like the 1978 Ringo Starr song “Heart on My Sleeve”.

Other artists who released songs referencing this line include Olly Murs, Avicii and Imagine Dragons, Snow Patrol, and more. When it comes to real-life situations, some celebrities like Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, Princess Diana, and Margaret Thatcher have also used the phrase in interviews and other infamous conversations they’ve had.

In Snow Patrol’s song of the same title, their lyrics go something like this:

“We’re not the end of every sentence

It’s not a heartbreak

It’s not a last call but, it’s time to go home

I wear your heart on my sleeve

I wear your heart on my sleeve

You wear your heart on my sleeve

I wear your heart on my sleeve”

Are you into fanfiction, but you don’t know how some terms mean? Check out the meaning of Y/N and the abbreviations you should know about.

I Wear My Heart On My Sleeve Meaning

I Wear My Heart On My Sleeve Meaning
Let’s wear our hearts on our sleeves. Source: unsplash.com

English and its idiomatic expressions are pretty distinctive and could make anyone learning the language think twice. Even English native speakers could even laugh at the thought that they’ve been saying things that are a little absurd. But if you think about it, these words, phrases, grammar rules, and idioms result from more than 1400 years of evolution. It’s impossible to deny that these are what make English a beautiful language.

Are you into fashion but don’t know how to pronounce the names of designers? Check out how to pronounce Givenchy.


Leonard hails from the Philippines and works as a freelancer, author, poet, and visual artist. He discovered his passion for writing and painting at an early age, leading him to pursue a degree in Mass Communications. He worked at a few places after college before landing what he thought was a "life-changing" writing career. He was also the lead singer and songwriter for a band. His career as an English teacher, poet, and visual artist took him to Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2018. You can see more of his work on Instagram at @anumalei.