February 14, 2020
Despite knowing that she would need to their votes in her race for U.S. Senator, Paula made a half-hearted effort to reach out to this constituency.
Travis made a half-hearted attempt to pick up the trash in the schoolyard.
Dan made a half-hearted attempt to wash the dishes, so I had to step in. I know that was the point. He thinks he’s slick.
Since it’s Valentine’s Day is, here is a Famous Sayings post that concerns the heart. The term half-hearted is very prescient right now. The meaning is straightforward, but I was surprised to learn of its origin. Maybe you won’t be, but it is interesting.
What Does Half-Hearted Mean?
The term half-hearted (or halfhearted) is an adjective that means one of the following:
- Feeling or showing little to no interest or enthusiasm
- Lukewarm or tepid (in terms of demeanor)
- Lacking involvement
At The Phrase Finder, Gary Martin shared three definitions for half-hearted:
- Having one’s intentions divided
- Not fully committed
- Lacking zeal or courage
When someone does something half-heartedly, that task was done with little thought, effort, or enthusiasm. Likewise, when someone says something half-heartedly, they are not saying it enthusiastically. I will add that although the word “half” is in this term, often people who do things halfheartedly put less than half as much effort than they would if they were truly motivated to participate in those activities.
When Was the Term ‘Half-Hearted’ Coined?
Four sources I consulted gave pointed the origin of this phrase. According to Merriam-Webster, the word “half-hearted” was first used in the 15th century. Douglas Harper at the Online Etymology Dictionary agrees. According to Dictionary.com, the word half-hearted was first recorded around 1605-1615. Martin said that the earliest example of half-hearted that he could find was from Queen Anna’s New World of Words (1611), which was John Florio’s Italian-English Dictionary:
Semicorde, a coward, halfe-hearted.
Martin also said that the word “half-hearted” was likely coined during medieval times because of what the heart symbolized. The belief was that “the heart was the source of a person’s being,” thus the state of someone’s heart dictated their demeanor. “Half-hearted” was derived from the term “faint-hearted,” which of course, means “weak, timid, or lacking courage or resolution.”
What Do I Think of When I Hear the Word ‘Half-Hearted’?
Normally, I think about grade school and high school, because young students to do a lot of things half-heartedly. I remember because I was once a bored student, especially in high school. Whereas younger students may participate in assemblies with more enthusiasm, high school students tend to be more jaded when “forced” to take part in certain activities.
Depending on the school, city, and state, high school students may half-heartedly cheer on their sports teams, performers in a school play or glee club, and give sarcastic cheers for other students in their regular classes — if they cheer at all. And yes, I know this may not be the case in Southern states, and particularly not in Texas — at least where sports are concerned — but in my state (California) and my county, that was certainly the case.
I also think of horrible political campaigns, particularly in the United States. Of course, the 2020 presidential election is going on, and we can see how some of the candidates have made half-hearted attempts to reach out to certain constituencies, or not make any attempts at all. Normally, we see candidates pandering to people of color and it is so insulting. Often, we see candidates go to churches, but one of the most annoying things we’ll see is candidates eating certain foods or dancing to try to appeal to voters. That, I feel, is a half-hearted attempt at “speaking” to voters and it is an insult.
“HALF-HEARTED.” Cambridge English Dictionary. Cambridge University Press, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/half-hearted. Accessed 9 February 2020.
“Half-hearted.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/half-hearted. Accessed 9 February 2020.
“Half-hearted.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, Inc., https://www.thefreedictionary.com/half-hearted. Accessed 9 February 2020.
“Half-hearted.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/half-hearted. Accessed 9 February 2020.
“Halfhearted.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, Inc., https://www.thefreedictionary.com/halfhearted. Accessed 9 February 2020.
Harper, Douglas. “half-hearted.” Online Etymology Dictionary, https://www.etymonline.com/word/half-hearted. Accessed 14 February 2020.
Martin, Gary. “Half-hearted.” The Phrase Finder, https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/half-hearted.html. Accessed 9 February 2020.
Various Authors. “halfhearted.” Wiktionary, Updated 9 October 2019, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/halfhearted#English. Accessed 9 February 2020.