by Stephen Andrews
Recently, I’ve been suffering from a bad cold, so I went to see the doctor. As she was taking my temperature, she asked: “How long have you been feeling under the weather?” Now, that might seem a very odd question! Why on earth would a doctor ask me about the weather? Well, that’s because, “feeling under the weather” is a colloquial, often-used phrase that has a completely different meaning to the one you might imagine.
You say: “I’m feeling a bit under the weather” whenever you’re feeling sick, or even when you’re hungover.
Where does this phrase come from? Well, it’s based on the old idea that the weather can influence the way you’re feeling.
There are quite a lot of these phrases in English and, weirdly, many of them stem from medical conditions. Maybe because British people are obsessed with their health! Here are a few others you might be interested in using in conversation at some point.
‘A pain in the neck’
Not anything to do with having a stiff neck. It describes someone who is being very annoying. You might also say: “That person is a pain in the bum,” without actually feeling a pain in your bum!
‘I was in stitches’
Doesn’t mean you’ve just had an operation and have stitches in the wound. It’s what you say when someone is very funny and makes you laugh a lot. Similarly, you might hear someone say: “A stitch in time saves nine.” The phrase basically means it's better to solve a problem right away, to stop it becoming a much bigger one. It's first recorded in a book way back in 1723 and it's a sewing reference. The idea is that sewing up a small rip with one stitch means the tear is less likely to get bigger, and need more – well, nine – stitches later on.
‘The temperature’s rising’
If you’re in a situation where people are disagreeing, things are feeling a bit strained and an argument is about to break out, this is when, metaphorically, the temperature starts to rise. You might also say: “Things are really heating up.”
Don’t worry, when you hear this, it doesn’t mean someone’s actually bleeding. This phrase is a common exclamation expressing surprise or anger. You’ll hear it mostly in southern England, especially London.
‘A blistering success’
Not to do with blisters on your hands or feet. This means that an event, piece of work or performance has been really, really, successful. Similar to saying something is “really hot” which actually means it’s very good.
‘A swollen head’
If someone has a “swollen head” they are very boastful or full of pride. It’s the same as saying someone has a “big head” or is “big-headed”
‘Dying on my feet’
Nothing to do with actually dying – it simply means that you feel very, very embarrassed. Actors or stand-up comedians often say it when they’ve had a very bad reception from an audience.
‘That’s an eyesore’
No need to go out and buy eyedrops when you hear this. When something is an “eyesore” it simply means that it’s not very attractive to look at. It’s usually said about a very ugly building, graffiti, litter, or pollution.
Though its meaning stems from the fact that the disease of jaundice discolours the skin, this colloquial phrase doesn’t literally mean that someone is suffering from the disease. If someone has a jaundiced view of something, they can see only the bad aspects of it. Or that they have a very biased view of something, as in: “They view politicians with a jaundiced eye.”
So there you go. Just a small sample of interesting, medically-based colloquial phrases. There are lots of others out there to discover and I hope you might like to try some out in your conversation.