If you want to speak the English language like a true descendent of Shakespeare - or of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf... - look no further. In the first installment of a series on idiomatic English, here are a few linguistic gems to add to your collection: soon you'll be chattering, wittering, gabbling and bellowing to your heart's content!

The heart provides the inspiration for many of the most picturesque English figures of speech. Of course, the heart is the seat of love: an anguished lover is heartsick or heartbroken, and Jimi Hendrix serenaded the object of his affection with the words "you make my heart sing!" in Wild Thing. But the heart can also be the seat of knowledge - to memorise something is to learn it by heart - and of enthusiasm: whether you're dancing to Jimi Hendrix or declaring your love, don't be half-hearted, put your heart and soul into it!

The heart has some strange properties. It can move around the body: when someone is dismayed, their heart sinks, and they might even say afterwards, "my heart was in my boots." But if you were terrified, especially on behalf of someone else, you might say, "my heart was in my mouth." The heart can even leave the body: when encouraging someone, you can say, "don't lose heart," and someone whose feelings are close to the surface wears his heart on his sleeve. And although this has yet to be anatomically proven, the heart even has strings: a moving story or a sentimental film can touch our heartstrings.

Photo: Carlos Botelho
A classic heart-throb: Elvis Presley

If you want to pour out your troubles to your closest friend, you might have a heart to heart with her - but if you then have a change of heart or feel suddenly heartless, you might curse her from the bottom of your heart and leave her to cry her heart out.

And finally, apart from encouraging us with heartening news and hearty meals, the heart has given us a wonderful word for a handsome pin-up: whether he's a cheesily-smiling popstar or a rugged James Bond, he can be called a heart-throb! Strangely, this word is only applied to male sex-symbols and not to female stars. But whether you're a boy or a girl and you think you can dance and sing even more sexily and throatily than Elvis, you're very much entitled to yell, "Elvis Presley, eat your heart out!" These rather revolting words are the perfect way for a wannabe diva to say "I'm a bigger star than you!"

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