I am learning English and it is confusing how "heart" becomes "memory" in the expression by heart.

Should I remember it by heart or is there any way to understand it?

Also I have seen that "learn by heart" may have some meaning. I suppose it should be "memorize", but am not sure about it.

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    Yep, "learn by heart" is an old idiom -- even older than I am. When I was in 3rd grade we'd be told to "learn the poem by heart" -- memorize it. (I've no idea if there is, eg, some biblical passage or some such which produced the term.)
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 17 '17 at 20:41
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    Actually, I've heard "by heart" used more often to mean the displaying of material that has been memorized, so if you memorized a piece of music for the piano, you would say "I'm going to play this piece by heart" (meaning without reading the music) or "I'm going to recite this poem by heart". Oct 17 '17 at 20:42
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    In British English there is also learn off by heart, which means the same as learn by heart. Oct 17 '17 at 20:49
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    @KristinaLopez I have listened as "from memory", also. For example in a conference the speaker said: I know Sartus resartus by heart..(if I am not mistaken ..). But it is more often used in the way you point out, I think..
    – user261930
    Oct 17 '17 at 20:59
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    Although Dutch usually translates to English pretty well, this is one of those sayings that don't. The Dutch version is "out of my head" ("I sing the lyrics out of my head").
    – Flater
    Oct 18 '17 at 8:11

It is an old figurative meaning of heart related to memory:

By heart:

  • Most of the modern figurative senses were present in Old English, including "memory" (from the notion of the heart as the seat of all mental faculties, now only in by heart, which is from late 14c.).


  • The expression learning by heart is traced back to the Middle Ages. Because, since the dawn of time, the heart was considered as the organ in charge of intelligence, feelings and memory due to the increase in heartbeats during intensive brain activity. The term is still used in many languages like Arabic « يَحفَظ عن ظهر قلب ».

From The origin of the expression « learn by heart »

By heart:

  • Also, by rote . From memory; also, mechanically. For example, Betty had trouble learning the song by heart, but her teacher insisted on it , or Japanese schools put heavy emphasis on learning by rote.

  • These terms are often put as know by heart or learn by rote . The first term was already used by Chaucer (in Troilus and Cressida ). The variant, also dating from the 1300s, often implies mere memorization without deeper understanding. Both phrases remain in use, although this form of learning is no longer so widespread as it once was.

(The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary)

  • Oh I see..that is very nice. I think Spanish language doesn't have an analogue. You may want to edit the last parenthesis. Thanks for the answer..
    – user261930
    Oct 17 '17 at 20:36

By heart means memorize something (and reproduce the exact thing)

From memory means recall something (it can be vague; not exactly how it is)

It is not the same thing.

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