Heart of Gold
A reader named Ricky asked about the phrase heart of gold, and I instantly thought of my mother’s cardiologist.
I was in the room with her as the doctor scanned her heart, watching the progress on a small monitor. “Here’s something you always knew,” he said to me, adding a filter to the screen. “Your mother has a heart of gold.” And the screen took on a gold tint.
I don’t recall what the filter was used for, but the cardiologist was right: My mother did have a heart of gold. She was generous and kind. And she offered to take me to a Paul McCartney show, ready to purchase $200 tickets when she had no interest herself.
“Mom,” I said. “Do you really want to see Paul McCartney?”
“No,” she replied, matter-of-factly. “But I want you to.”
Evelyn has a heart of gold. When her neighbor Barbara was sick, she brought her meals every day, along with fresh lilacs from her garden.
John stayed late to help me finish a work project, even though he didn’t have to. He truly has a heart of gold.
The meaning behind heart of gold seems straightforward enough. Gold is a precious metal, one that is highly valued. If someone’s heart can be compared to gold, it must be precious and highly valued, too.
It looks like English speakers have been using the phrase heart of gold since at least 1542, when Robert Burdet used it to describe women in A Dyalogue Defensyue for Women, Agaynst Malycyous Detractoures:
What hertes of golde fyne and pure whiche women do vtterly contemne and refuse.
Shakespeare used it in Henry V in 1600: The kings abago, and a hart of gold.
And Neil Young sang about it in 1972: