'Cold Feet' and Other Cold Body Expressions


06 January, 2018

And now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

Cold weather has a great effect on how our minds and our bodies work. Perhaps that is why we have so many expressions that combine the word "cold" with body parts.

The most straightforward example is the adjective coldhearted. Just as it sounds, a coldhearted person is distant and, well, cold. An action can be coldhearted as well. This would be one that shows no love or sympathy.

Pedestrians cross the street in downtown Boston, Jan. 4, 2018. A massive winter storm swept from the Carolinas to Maine on Thursday in the United States. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Pedestrians cross the street in downtown Boston, Jan. 4, 2018. A massive winter storm swept from the Carolinas to Maine on Thursday in the United States. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

There are many songs about coldhearted men or coldhearted women who, without feeling, broke the hearts of their lovers.

In the 1988 song, Cold Hearted, Paula Abdul sings about the coldhearted man who broke her heart.

He's a coldhearted snake, look into his eyes,
Oh, oh he's been telling lies. He's a lover boy at play,
He don't play by the rules oh, oh, oh ...

The song was a huge hit.

It seems a trend may have been set. In 2010, the Zac Brown Band released a song with the exact same name.

Pretty little words covered your dark and crooked heart
With a forked tongue I fell in love,
Then I fell apart
You are so
Cold hearted

Other similar adjectives often get a hyphen, like cold-blooded. Reptiles, amphibians and most fish are cold-blooded animals. This means they are unable to control their own body temperature. Mammals, on the other hand, are warm-blooded -- well, for the most part. There are some people in the world you could call cold-blooded.

People who show no emotions or feelings are often described as cold-blooded. Cold-blooded people are hard to get close to. And they often do terrible things, on purpose.

For example, the police might look for someone they call a cold-blooded killer. The person killed someone without any understandable cause - not in self-defense, fear or even anger. Killing for no reason is often called cold-blooded.

Okay, enough of cold-blooded people. Let's go back to fish!

As we said earlier, most are cold-blooded. So, calling a striped bass or rainbow trout a "cold fish" is fine. They would not be insulted...if they could be insulted.

But calling a person a "cold fish" is an insult.

A cold fish is a person who is unfriendly, unemotional and shows no love or warmth. Cold fish do not offer much of themselves to anyone.

However, not everyone who doesn't show their feelings is a cold fish. Some people keep their feelings to themselves until they know you better. We could describe these people with the expression cold hands, warm heart.

This means that a person may be very kind and warm. But they just don't show their feelings very easily. Take my friend Celeste as an example. She doesn't normally show her feelings. But she is always ready to help and is very kind. She is a classic case of cold hands, warm heart.

Speaking of hands, the hands and feet are some of the first body parts to feel the cold. Getting cold feet is no fun – outdoors or in conversation.

To get cold feet means to become afraid to do something you had already decided to do. We use this expression in situations that make us nervous or afraid -- from leading a big meeting at work to singing on stage in front of strangers.

But we commonly use it in connection with weddings. People who are about to get married may begin to feel nervous as the day nears. They begin to question if they should take such a big step. If a bride shares these feelings of nervousness and uncertainty, a relative or friend might answer with "Don't worry! This is a classic case of cold feet!"

Another body part involved in our cold expressions today is the shoulder.

You give someone the cold shoulder when you refuse to speak to them. You ignore them. The expression probably comes from the physical act of turning your back toward someone. You may give a cold shoulder to a friend who has broken a promise, or to someone who has said mean things about others.

Well, that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories.

In the Comments Section, let us know what you think of today's show. We try to answer as many comments as we can. But unfortunately we can't respond to all. So, if you don't get a reply, please know we're not giving you the cold shoulder.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story. Caty Weaver was the editor. At the end, Norah Jones sings "Cold Cold Heart," a Hank Williams song.

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Words in This Story

straightforward adj. easy to do or understand : not complicated

sympathy n. the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else's trouble, grief, misfortune, etc. : a sympathetic feeling

forked tongue n. the intent to mislead or deceive —usually used in the phrase to speak with forked tongue

striped bassn. a large silvery marine food and sport fish that has black horizontal stripes on the sides,

rainbow troutn. a large trout native to western North America that usually has red or pink stripes with black dots on its side

classic casen. a typical example

specific adj. relating to a particular person, situation, etc.