Posted by R. Berg on October 31, 2001
In Reply to: Death warmed over posted by Jake on October 31, 2001
: "He looked like death itself" I could understand. "Death warmed over" doesn't sound so bad. Since you're supposed to be insulting someone, warming him over sounds like a compliment, and so not what you're getting at.
Here's my hypothesis: "Warmed over" refers to the preparation of leftover food to serve again. Leftovers are less desirable than food just now cooked, and the warming process can damage them further. They get overcooked, dry, limp where you want crispy, stiff where you want soft, charred around the edges. Sauces separate. Flavor vanishes. So "warmed over" is an intensifier: Not only did he look awful, he didn't even look fresh. (Not necessarily an insult; for instance, may be said sympathetically of someone who's ill or exhausted.)