Thursday, February 12, 2009

Origins - Valentine's Day and Others

February derives its name from the Latin februa, which signifies the festivals of purification so popular during Roman times.

St. Valentines Day – When lovers traditionally state their affection for each other. Chaucer mentions this special day so we know the expression was used in the 14th century and it is thought to be the day the birds chose their mates for the coming season. The origin is shrouded in mystery with at least three men with the given name of St. Valentine. Some say he was a priest in Rome who died because he helped Christian martyrs. Another theory is that Claudius II decreed that unwed soldiers made for a better army of men than those with a wife and family. Believing this is to be a bad decision, St. Valentine secretly wed some soldiers to their beloved ladies. Yet another theory is that a certain St. Valentine while in prison fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and just before he was put to death, he sent a letter to the young girl and signed it “from your Valentine.” In the end, none of this matters because St. Valentine won the day because his name has been forever immortalized.

Warms the Cockles of the Heart – To make one feel warm and emotionally happy.
As a person of English heritage, I find this phrase particularly interesting because the cockle is a small shellfish that is widely available throughout England and doesn’t appear to have anything to do with warming or hearts. The real origin is the Latin term cochleae cordis meaning “ventricles of the heart” and obviously warming the ventricles means reaching the depths of ones heart or emotions.

To Wear One’s Heart on his Sleeve – To show one’s affection openly. Some believe the origin of this phrase lies in ancient times when knights wore the scarves or kerchiefs of preferred maidens on their sleeves thus displaying their emotions openly. We do know for sure that in 16th century England, Valentines were exchanged and that if a man was truly smitten by a woman, he wore the heart-shaped Valentine of his beloved on his sleeve.

Love me; Love my Dog. John Heywood first used this term in his collection of proverbs that was published twenty years before Shakespeare’s birth. The expression is almost a 1000 years old and was used by St. Bernard (no relation to the breed of dog) who used it in a sermon “Qui me amat, amet et canem meum” (“Who loves me will also love my dog.”)

Love Apples – A mistake in etymology and a legend is born. At one time, tomatoes were known as “love apples” and thought to be an aphrodisiac. Originally, tomatoes grew in South America and were imported to Spain soon after Columbus discovered the New World. The apples migrated to Morocco and finally Italy, where they were known as pomo dei Moro (apple of the Moors). Evidently, a romantic Frenchman translated this incorrectly to read pomme de’amour (love apple) and legend was born.