Think about the heart, if only just for a moment. What qualities do you associate with it? To which emotions do you link it? If you were inventing a language at this very moment, what sort of word would you invent for this most essential of organs?

Inhliziyo is the physical heart (as an organ) ngesiZulu.

It is also regarded as the seat of emotions (as in many other languages and cultures) – to talk about inhliziyo is to talk about the emotional faculty of a person. Inhliziyo is hope, courage, desire and appetite.

If you listen to your inhliziyo, you are obeying your conscience (both good and bad). Inhliziyo is your will, as well as your patience. To say akananhliziyo means both ‘he has no desire’ and ‘he has no patience’.

So far, there’s not much difference between isiZulu and other languages when talking about the heart. But what is the root of the word?

Before I answer that, I want to ask you something – have you ever cooked a heart?

I know it’s a bit of a gross question, but it really is relevant – the root of inhliziyo is the ideophone hl’ or hli, denoting ‘hissing or sizzling (as wet wood in a fire) or fizzing’. Ukuhliza means ‘fizz, hiss, sizzle’ or ‘froth over (as milk boiling)’.

Which is why I ask you if you’d ever cooked a heart (and I didn’t mean a human heart, you crazy cannibal-conscious person!). Because, when you cook a heart, it hisses and sizzles. And if you put it in a pot, it causes water to froth hissingly out of the pot and into the fire.