Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wording a logo: a confession.

Also Bath, source of such
excellent merchandise.
I was recently tempted to use heart as a verb. In writing. It was in an email, which we all know only counts in a court of law or a newspaper, but I resisted. Fortunately, before I used up my slender reserves of lexical discipline, I was distracted by wondering how many other people had verbed this tender noun, whether I was verbing* a noun or wording a logo, and whether any other logos have been worded.

Looking for some stats on its history, I went to the usually reliable google ngram search but, alas, the cold, heartless, digitisation of the server farm was drawn, moth-like, to the tepidity of Sir Walter Scott and the warmth of that terrible flirt, Master Shakespeare. Such simple things as i'heart, Act I: Heart, "with broken-heart, I" and Sir Heart: "I, madam...", not to mention the excitement when !heart or heart! comes along, lead those poor machines terribly astray.

The OED, its mills grinding slightly faster - but possibly just as fine - than God's, is more circumspect. The entry for heart, v. (DRAFT ADDITIONS JANUARY 2011, lest you get too carried away) - speculates as I, much less humbly, did, that it all relates back to the I ♥ NY shirts. The text version: "Originally with reference to logos using the symbol of a heart to denote the verb ‘love’".

The thing is, this blog is, very, very slowly, turning out to be me talking about things I love or like or somewhere in between, and now and then getting diverted into what love or like is, anyway. The original object of my hearting has been lost in my subsequent internet meanderings, but the temptation arose because my attachment lay on the (entirely subjective) spectrum of feelings between like and love.  I still have trouble using love in any serious sense for things that aren't people (apart from cricket, which is still in the balance) but there are any number of things for which I feel more than like, and so heart, daggy and verbalised as it is, is rather useful.  It's the schoolgirl scrawl of affection: I ♥ Dr Who.  Trams. Chardonnay. Melbourne. Budapest. London. Champagne. Travelling. Hmm: I might love travelling. 

Since the OED (which I definitely heart) allows you to search etymologies, I searched unsuccessfully for other verbs arising from logos or symbols. There are names for these things, of course (smiley) but so far it would appear that this transition of a word (love) to a symbol (♥) back out again to the verbing of a different word is unique, and a small, weird part of me is fascinated to see this tiny offshoot of the language growing in front of me.

In the interests of completeness, I must point out that the OED lists five other senses of heart as a verb, the oldest from 897 - senses like 'give heart to' (people), 'to form a heart' (cabbages and so on) - and the most recent from 1892. None of them relate to a sense of love or like; the first citation in this sense is from 1983: "Associated Press; (Nexis) 16 Nov. From Berlin to the Urals, teen-agers wear T-shirts reading, ‘Elvis’, ‘Always Stoned’, and ‘I (heart) New York’."

*which, for the prescriptivists**, has been in use since 1766. Along with its much quieter twin, Nouning. 

** at which point I'd like to re-emphasise that I was educated during a time when teaching formal grammar was Frowned Upon and so the most complex grammatical concept I have grasped is that nouns are Naming Words, verbs are Doing Words and adjectives are Describing Words - after that you've lost me. Fortunately my parents inflicted a lot of books on me, so I have managed to compensate for this disability.