faint of the heart (the faint of heart)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Ginafae, Nov 2, 2008.

  1. Ginafae New Member


    Do you happen to know what exactly a phrase "faint of the heart" refers to, when it is used and what its meaning is?

    Thanks in advance,
  2. Broccolicious Senior Member

    Glorious Devonshire
    English - England
    Hi Ginafae

    If you search in the WR dictionary under 'faint', you will find it - it means timid.

    NB It's 'faint of heart' (without the 'the').

    And of course, if you give us the context in which you read / heard it, we will be able to help more...

  3. Ginafae New Member

    I heard it in a sentence more or less like this: "We are going to do things which faint of the heart shouldn't see."

    Does it help?
  4. Broccolicious Senior Member

    Glorious Devonshire
    English - England
    Do you understand it now, knowing that 'faint of heart' means 'timid'?
  5. Ginafae New Member

    Yes, thank you.
  6. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    It should be:

    "We are going to do things which the faint of the heart shouldn't see."
  7. Ginafae New Member

    Thanks James for that little correction. Certainly useful!
  8. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    Faint of heart is an AE idiom. It's a set phrase we use when we want to say someone is easily frightened by doing or seeing something, usually. It's used to mean a person is so unadventurous, their heart feels funny and makes them feel faint if they try to do something that's beyond their comfort zone.

    This structure isn't used for most noun/adjective pairups. I can't think of another example. Maybe someone else can come up with others.

    For instance, while we might say someone has a faint heart (this would be an old-fashioned style of speaking) or be faint of heart, we would't use it for these examples:

    Creative of mind. (Creative mind)
    Bold of speech. (Bold speech)
    Humorous of personality. (Humorous personality)

    We could but we probably wouldn't...

  9. Broccolicious Senior Member

    Glorious Devonshire
    English - England
    We use it in BrE too!
  10. 713cali New Member

    Houston, TX
    English - American (western)
    Unfortunately I have to disagree with this explanation as it is correct in general but misleading in principle.
    The word 'faint' in English derives from French as 'feint', which may not enlighten the casual observer as to its full meaning. Feint is now commonly constrained to the role of offensive actions intended to distract an opponent in some real or imagined engagement. This is correct, but commonly overlooked is the implicit lack of follow-through in such an action. The feint is never intended to be anything other than a shallow and limited representation of the actual (bold) offensive act. Regardless of one's own lion-hearted exploits in the battle-at-large, each feint represents an effort that is intended to end prematurely.
    The word 'faint' as used in "faint of heart' necessarily inherits the common context of weakness and timidity, yet it cannot wholly be divorced from its roots as an action that is faked and meant to distract. Thus, 'faint of heart' can be most fully appreciated as a heart (character/soul), that is uncommitted, weak, and timid - by design or otherwise. The antonym applicable here would be 'sure', and indeed one could represent the phrase as "this [...] is for the sure of heart".

    As for the structure, it is certainly declining in use, but can be seen with many other phrases currently in use, viz. 'sound of mind' (legal), 'turn of phrase', 'mother of four' (introduction), 'ace of spades' (playing cards), 'President of the United States' (title), etc.

    Additionally, the physical or anatomical 'heart' is not being referenced in this idiom, rather it is the soul, character, or spirit of an individual.
  11. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    My God, cali-the-713th, you've traveled almost six years into the past to correct me. And for your very first post. That must be a record around here.

    Your answer was certainly imaginative, bold, and quite thorough in its exploration of the etymology of the word, feint.

    But see, I'm a simple woman who likes simple answers, both giving and reading. This phrase to most peasants means lacking confidence and courage. Being of a spiritual bent, too, though, I DO agree with your reference to the soul, the spirit, the symbolic drum of an ethereal beating heart, but I would still also include the literal thump in a real chest.

    Thank you so much for bringing me to task.
  12. 713cali New Member

    Houston, TX
    English - American (western)
    AE, you certainly gave me a good chuckle and I appreciate your grace. I must confess I have used this site as a resource for many years but specifically registered for this thread, and were it not for your senior post this very common phrase would be almost wholly unrepresented here.
    I must agree with your correction regarding a physical manifestation of the foreboding experienced by those who are faint of heart. Well said, and thank you for your continuing contributions.
  13. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    I'll give you this, cali. You have a pretty way with words. Welcome to the forums.

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