The Meaning of Heart of Gold: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will give you all of the knowledge needed on the idiom heart of gold, including its definition, origin, sentence examples and more!

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What does heart of gold mean?

Heart of gold is an idiomatic expression that means to have a kind, generous disposition, according to Merriam-Webster. If someone is a kind-hearted, generous person, they could be said to have a heart of gold.

The phrase is also often used for someone who may have a tough exterior or who others may not expect to be soft on the interior. Someone may be gruff and mean on the outside, but they could have a heart of gold if they are kind to those who are close to them.

What is the origin of the phrase heart of gold?

According to Writing Explained, the phrase originated in the late 1500s, and comes from gold being a precious metal that was highly valued both in its day, and now. It was first seen in William Shakespeare’s play Henry V. 

According to No Sweat Shakespeare, the author uses the phrase in a scene in which King Henry has disguised himself as a soldier in Act 4 Scene 1. He wanders around in the darkness to spy on the soldiers and get a sense of their morale. He asks one of the soldiers what he thinks about King Henry, and the soldier replies, “The king’s a bawcock, and a heart of gold, a lad of life, an imp of fame.” 

A bawcock is another phrase from the era that means a fine man. In this quote, the soldier is saying that he admires and respects the king by saying that he believes he is a fine man with a heart of gold.

How can heart of gold be used in a sentence?

Heart of gold can be used in a variety of circumstances to describe good-hearted people. Below are two examples of situations in which using the phrase heart of gold would be appropriate.

James and Lily are classmates and have just returned from winter break.

James: Hey Lily, how was your break? Did you have a good Christmas?

Lily: I did! I wasn’t able to visit my family, but I spent the day serving food at the local homeless shelter.

James: Wow, you really do have a heart of gold.

Here, James uses the phrase heart of gold to describe Lily, who performed a generous and charitable act by serving the homeless on Christmas Day. Next, Gwen and Milena discuss their cross country coach who just reprimanded the whole team.

Milena: I wish Coach would get off of our backs. We’re doing our best. He’s so mean.

Gwen: He comes off tough, but he really has a heart of gold. At last year’s banquet he cried at all the seniors who were graduating!

Milena: I’d pay money to see that.

Here, Gwen describes her coach as having a heart of gold on the inside, but a rougher exterior. She uses this to mean that he is a good person deep down, but that it is tough to see.

How is the phrase heart of gold seen in popular culture?

Heart of gold started out being seen in popular culture, with its inception in Shakespeare’s Henry V. The trending phrase has continued to grow in popularity, and is now a common idiom. Perhaps the most famous example of its usage aside from Shakespeare’s work is the Neil Young song of the same title.

According to Genius, the song was released in 1972 on Young’s Harvest album. This was the first Neil Young song that topped the Billboard 200 at #17. AZ Lyrics states that the song features James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt on backup vocals. As of 2018, “Heart of Gold” was Neil Young’s only United States #1 single. In 2004, the song made Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest 500 Songs of All Time.

In the song, Young details his search for a heart of gold, painting himself as a miner, mining for this golden heart. He sings it to someone who keeps him searching for a heart of gold, no matter how old he gets.

There are also songs entitled “Heart of Gold” by Johnny Cash, Boney M., and The Stray Gators.

The phrase heart of gold is also used in the common film and television trope hooker with a heart of gold, or stripper with a heart of gold, according to TV Tropes. This is one example of using heart of gold in a context where the person described has an exterior opposite to their interior.

Underneath their scandalous exterior, these characters have a soft, good natured, kind interior. Another common trait of these characters is that they are embittered and poor, sometimes addicts or weathered by the world. 

Some example hookers/strippers with hearts of gold in popular culture include the character of Sera in Leaving Las Vegas, Mike in Magic Mike, Satine in Moulin Rouge!, and the ever-famous Vivian in Pretty Woman.

What are synonyms for heart of gold?

According to MacMillan Thesaurus, the below are all synonyms for the phrase heart of gold:

  • Gentle
  • Sensitive
  • Kind
  • Warm
  • Caring
  • Tender
  • Nice
  • Generous
  • Warm-hearted
  • Good
  • Altruistic
  • Angelic
  • Benevolent
  • Charitable
  • Compassionate
  • Considerate
  • Empathic/Empathetic
  • Good-hearted
  • Humanitatian
  • Good-natured
  • Generous
  • Kind-hearted
  • Magnanimous
  • Merciful
  • Mild-mannered
  • Soft-hearted
  • Sympathetic
  • Thoughtful

Overall, the phrase heart of gold is used to describe someone who is kind and generous. This is frequently used in popular culture in songs and television tropes, and originated in Shakespeare’s play Henry V