‘Heart Skips a Beat’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on July 14, 2023

Did someone use the phrase 'heart skips a beat', and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

When someone's 'heart skips a beat,' it means that they're experiencing nervousness, excitement, or another sudden strong emotion.

What Does 'Heart Skips a Beat' Mean?

If your ‘heart skips a beat,’ it means that you experienced a feeling of strong emotion. For example, if you experience excitement or nervousness, you can say that your ‘heart skipped a beat.’

Where Does This Idiom Come From?

It is said that this idiom has been used since the early 1900s.

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'heart skips a beat' started showing up in publications in the early 20th century.

However, many of the earliest examples that use this phrase are more literal, showing up in medical texts.

For example, the following is from the Texas Medical Journal: Volume 33 from 1918:

"Premature contractions or extrasystoles are abnormal contractions of the heart which spring from some abnormal focus in the heart. They generally arise from either the auricular or the ventricular muscle. Without graphic aid it is generally impossible to differentiate auricular and ventricular premature beats, but for clinical purposes this is seldom necessary. Premature beats may pass unnoticed by the patient or may give rise to certain subjective symptoms. These symptoms are often spoken of by the patient that his heart "skips a beat," "turns over," etc."

Another early example from 1919 is similarly medical in origin:

"At the thirteenth cycle the photographic tracing shows that Vea's heart skipped a beat and in measuring the duration of the double cycle in which the missing thirteenth beat occurred, the average for two beats has been taken although only one beath (the fourteenth) showed on the record."

Idiomatic Usage in Publications

It isn't until later in the 20th century that we find evidence of this phrase being used idiomatically rather than literally.

Here is an example from the 1982 publication To Lose a War: Memories of a German Girl:

"This time my heart skips a beat. Not five minutes ago the soldier had asked if we carried weapons, ammunition, transmitters, etc."

Another example shows up in A New Year: Stories, Autobiography and Poems from 1974:

"Abu Nasif's heart skips a beat and he freezes to the spot as if paralyzed. He wants to take a step, but his legs will not obey him; he wants to cross himself, but his hands betray him."

Examples of This Idiom In Sentences

How would you use this phrase in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • "The first time I laid eyes on her, my heart skipped a beat."
  • "I went back to the office last night to grab my computer. I had no idea my co-worker was there-- when he first said my name, my heart skipped a beat."
  • "Bear with me. My heart skips a beat every time I'm startled like that."
  • "I love traveling, but even the thought of getting on an airplane makes my heart skip a beat."
  • "Once I realized the man was actually a famous actor, my heart skipped a beat."
  • "When it dawned on me that I was going to be stuck in traffic during the start of the meeting, my heart skipped a beat."

Other Ways to Say 'Heart Skips a Beat'

What other phrases have a similar meaning to 'heart skips a beat'?

Here are some options:

  • Butterflies in your stomach
  • Take someone's breath away
  • Jump out of one's skin

Final Thoughts About 'Heart Skips a Beat'

If your 'heart skips a beat,' it means that you've experienced a sudden feeling of excitement, surprise, or anticipation.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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