It took me a long time to see or hear the phrase “heart-wrenching” without shuddering.
The original idiom is heart-rending. The eggcorn heart-wrenching first rears its head on the Google N-gram Viewer in 1905, but doesn’t really take off until 1980.
By now, “heart-wrenching” has overtaken “heart-rending.” A Google search without quotation marks brings up 12,900,000 hits for “heart-wrenching” and only 4,580,000 for “heart-rending.” A search with the phrases in quotations results in 5,720,000 for the interloper and 1,350,000 for the original version.
Just when I have become reconciled to “heart-wrenching,” (the shudder has devolved into a shrug), along comes “heart-rendering.”
Enclosed in quotations, the new abomination garners about 124,000 hits. Without quotations, about 47,800,000.
The other day, I came across the use of “heart-rendering” in—of all places—the New York Times.
The altered expression appears in an article about corporate reactions to the separation of families at the Mexican border. The writer quotes Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein:
Mr. Blankfein described the situation on the United States’ southern border as “heart-rendering.”
I have not been able to find a recording of Blankfein’s comment at a New York Economic Club lunch on 19 June 2018, so I don’t know if the error is his or if it belongs to the reporter who quoted him in the Times.
Either way, the error does not belong in the writing or speech of educated English speakers. (The Times writer is a graduate of Columbia. Blankfein is a graduate of Harvard.)
Two different verbs are at issue here: rend and render.
The verb render has numerous meanings—depending on context.
One meaning of render is “to give or give back,” as in, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
Another meaning of render is “to produce, represent or depict.” For example, “Some of the paintings are rendered in oil, some in watercolor.”
Still another meaning of render is “to melt fat.”
Pork processing plants have a rendering section where the pig is broken down into fats and proteins by melting. Whatever Mr. Blankfein actually said, he certainly didn’t mean “heart-rendering.”
The expression that fits the context of separating toddlers from their mothers is heart-rending. It is formed from the verb rend, “to pull apart.”
A situation described as heart-rending pulls at the emotions. I’ll even settle for “heart-wrenching.” But please, leave the rendering of body parts to the meat-processors.