Does the idiom "taking the heart out of something" mean to defeat it?


rituals of science have taken the heart out of the rituals of religion

  • It means to remove its spirit. – Hot Licks Apr 15 '16 at 12:39
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    I'd say it's being used here more in the sense of "deflate", "cause to be impotent", "cause to be apathetic" than the more specific and violent idiom "rip the heart out of", which means "to kill". – Dan Bron Apr 15 '16 at 12:40

The human heart is used metaphorically in many different ways. Common to many of these metaphors is the notion of centeredness or centrality, perhaps because the human heart is at the center of our bodies (well, almost). Moreover, the heart is central to our existence, since once the heart stops beating (or starts beating erratically), the end is near!

To "take the heart out of something" is to remove its central core, or its raison d'etre, or its sine qua non. Can the notion of defeat somehow be implied in the use of the phrase? Possibly. When a person running in a marathon "hits the wall," they are tempted to lose heart and quit the race. To quit the race is to be defeated, but sometimes simply entertaining the notion of quitting can signal defeat.

Changing gears a bit, here's a fairly common phrase,

Jack's heart doesn't seem to be in his job.

Translation: For some reason, Jack is dispirited in his job. He's lost his enthusiasm and motivation. Consequently, his performance may be slipping, or if his performance is still good, it's not because he cares about his performance.

We could use a different metaphor, which has a similar meaning:

Jack is phoning in his job lately.

When a person's heart is not into whatever he or she is doing or saying, what is missing is commitment combined with a certain joie de vivre, as the French say.

Other expressions employing the word heart metaphorically:

  • At the heart of the matter is the cost of implementing the change.

  • When I proposed to her and she said no, she tore my heart right out of me.

  • Cupid's arrow found its way to my heart.

  • I heartily agree with your plan.

  • She gave her audience a heartfelt plea to have compassion on the orphans.

  • Don't be so heartless, you unfeeling monster.

  • "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23 NASB).

  • She has a heart of gold.

  • "A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22 NASB).

  • My heart rejoices whenever she comes into view.

  • Don't harden your heart when a homeless person asks you for a meal.

  • "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (a duet sung by Elton John and Kiki Dee to a tune Elton composed).

  • He has such a hard heart.

  • Her heart is filled with pride.

  • My mother was truly the heart of our extended family.

  • I'm curious about the expression "Jack is phoning in his job lately." You've indicated that it's meaning is similar to "Jack's heart doesn't seem to be in his job.", which I understand. But "phoning in his job" does make any sense to me grammatically or in any other way. I assume that it's an Americanism. To me (as a Brit), "phoning in a job" would mean advising an employee or employer by 'phone of a job (item or work) needing to be carried out. How does this mean "his heart isn't in it"? – TrevorD Apr 15 '16 at 13:53
  • @TrevorD - I believe "phoning in a job" started out life as "phoning in a performance" in the acting profession, the implication being that the actor in question cared so little for the part that (s)he metaphorically didn't even bother turning up at the studio but simply picked up the 'phone and read his/her lines down it. It looks like it may have expanded to other fields but I would agree that I haven't heard it used that way in British English. – Spratty Apr 15 '16 at 14:24
  • @ TrevorD: When I see an actor "phoning in" a performance, it's either because he feels the material is beneath him (perhaps he just took the job just for money), or what seemed at first like a promising script now looks like a disaster in the making. While that sounds awful, let's be honest: do YOU always give 100 percent at work every day? You've never had a day when you did the minimum of work necessary, watching the clock every second; never had to work on a project you thought was silly or pointless, and found yourself working half-heartedly? You're human; so are actors. – rhetorician Apr 15 '16 at 15:27
  • @ Spratty: I adapted the above comment made by "Astorian" here: boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=260391. Don – rhetorician Apr 15 '16 at 15:27
  • @NVZ: Thanks for using your eagle eye in editing my answer! Don – rhetorician Apr 16 '16 at 23:38

Take or rip the heart out of something in a figurative way means:

  • to destroy or seriously damage something
    • these changes will rip the heart out of the island’s economy.

(MacMillan Dictionary)

  • In your sentence, given the limited context you provide, it may refer to the fact that science, that is a rational approach, has "damaged" the more irrational, spiritual part of religious rituals.

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