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What Does 'Eat Your Heart Out' Mean?

Rujuta Borkar
The term 'eat your heart out' has several interesting meanings that are basically to do with making someone jealous. The nuances and varied versions of the same will be discussed in the following sections of this story write up.

Are You Hearting It?

This idiom falls in a blanket of other idoms that have the heart playing at their center. For example 'Eat to your heart's content', 'Heart in the right place', and 'Heart's not in it'.
The phrase 'eat your heart out' can conjure visions of the most horrid nature if one were to picture it literally; and (not) surprisingly, that is one of the earliest meanings associated with this term. The term is most often used as a taunt to imply that the speaker possesses something―an object or otherwise―that the listener greatly desires.
While this is the basic meaning associated with this idiom today, there are several other interpretations and additions made to the same.
In the following sections of this Penlighten article, we will be discussing the varied interpretations of the 'eat your heart out' idiom, as well as throwing light on its origin.

Origin of the Term

There are about 4 versions to which we can trace the origin of this idiom to. These have been discussed below.
The earliest usage of the term is said to have been made in Ancient Greece around 850 BC. Reference can be found in Homer's text, 'Iliad' which suggests that it first originated in Greek mythology. TheIliad talks of a story about Bellerophon, a Greek hero who is said to have 'eaten his heart out' with grief after his children were killed by Ares and Artemis.
Another version states that the term was probably adapted from the 16th century term 'eat one's own heart', in that to mean that one is expected to suffer from silent vexation or grief.
Yet another version proposes that the idiom and its many adaptations used today have their roots in a Biblical phrase 'to eat one's own flesh'. This term was meant to describe a person who was lazy and did not want to exert himself.
Of all these previous versions, the version that seems to have been the source of the idiom that is in use today, is one that is based on the very structure of the heart.
The version says that since the heart is associated with the center of one's being, as the most important, central, and innermost part of a person (or any other object, for that matter) to 'eat the heart out' means to remove the most important part of a person―a part that they will surely miss.
Experts suggest that this term is a shortened version of the term 'This will eat your heart out'.

The Many Meanings

While the term started out as 'missing something that was important to one' or as 'grieving over something/someone', the term soon stretched over to include the emotion of jealousy. With the inclusion of this emotion, the dynamics of the meaning changed almost completely.
While it still meant that the person was grieving over something important, it now shifted the power to the speaker of the term because it meant that he possessed something that the other person wanted and therefore was jealous of.
The term also changed from what could have most likely been an internal, personal feeling to something like a dialog, where the speaker and the listener both became important. Because, unless there was no speaker, how could the listener feel any emotion and unless there was no listener, how could the speaker say something.
The term now also meant that the action is a well meditated one, where a person wants to deliberately cause jealousy and pain to the listener and draws happiness and satisfaction from the listener's pain.
There are several other nuances to this term, like, the speaker uses this term to boast about his achievements and thereby insults the listener by blowing these in his face, while at the same time making the listener aware of his shortcomings and taunting him to boil with frustration.
Many times, the term is also used as a comparison with and reference to a famous person who has mastery over the skill that is being spoken about―example, 'Eat your heart out, Shania Twain! I just won the singing competition'. In such instances, the reference is used as just that―a reference.

It simply means to highlight the elation and pride of the speaker, without actually comparing the skills and achievements of the two, because, in reality, there is no match between the two.


Example #1
► Enough is enough! I'm not going to sit at home moping about, eating my heart out for a useless man.

Example #2
► Take that Team Blue, eat your heart out, 'cause we just won the soccer cup.

Example #3
► Did you hear how I sang on stage? Mariah Carey can eat her heart out!

Example #4
► Eat your heart out, David. I saved enough money and I'm buying the new car today.
Example #5
► I'm sure Sarah is eating her heart out after hearing that you beat her at the Math test!
Example #6
► Remember how you said no one can beat your score at the video game? Eat your heart out, buddy, I just did.

The usage of the term in its literal sense is too gory to even imagine, yet, the term is used quite commonly as a part of speech. Given that it is a great way to introduce variety in your vocabulary, you can definitely try using the same in your speech.