The heart shape in the emoticon is recognized across the globe as a symbol of romantic love and affection, but its historical origins are fully Hellenic--at least, we think.

There are three theories. The most common is that the shape came from the shape of an ivy leaf. It's a plant that can live hundreds of years, literally attached itself to things, and it stays green all year round. Brides and grooms in ancient Hellas wore crowns of ivy as a representation of fidelity. An ivy leaf without its stem resembles a heart for sure.

Perhaps the most unusual theory concerns silphium, a species of giant fennel that once grew on the North African coastline near the ancient Hellenic colony of Cyrene. Silphium’s seedpod bore a striking resemblance to the modern emoticon. It was used to flavor food  and as a medicine against sore throats and coughs. It was most famous as an early form of birth control, however. Ancient writers and poets hailed the plant for its contraceptive powers, and it became so popular that it was cultivated into extinction by the first century A.D. The ancient city of Cyrene, which grew rich from the silphium trade, even put the heart shape on its money, as pictured above.

The last theory is more straightforward. It may just have its roots in the writings of Galen and Aristotle, who described the human heart as having three chambers with a small dent in the middle. The heart shape may have been born when artists and scientists from the Middle Ages attempted to draw representations of ancient medical texts. Since the human heart has long been associated with emotion and pleasure, the shape was eventually co-opted as a symbol of romance and medieval courtly love.

One of those "the more you know" things, hm?