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Re: Brrrr! - more explanations

Posted by ESC on January 03, 2001

In Reply to: Re: Brrrr! - more explanations posted by James Briggs on January 03, 2001

: : : : : Hi... I searched hi and lo... it's listed here as an expression.. but I cannot find the meaning! To Have Cold Feet... anyone know? Thanks and happy New Year to all!

: : : : American Heritage Dictionary says: "cold feet. Slang. Failure of nerve."

: : : : Someone who "has [or "gets"] cold feet" has sudden misgivings about a contemplated course of action and is likely to back out. I imagine the phrase comes from the effect of fear on one's circulatory system.

: : : : You're welcome.

: : : RE: Cold feet. I don't want to creep anybody out. But I was talking with an elderly relative about the days when most people died at home rather than in the hospital. She recalled as a young girl having to keep watch over her dying grandmother while her mother rested. Her mother instructed her that when grandmother's feet grew cold, the girl should come and get her mother because that was a signal that the old woman was near death. Makes you want to wear warm socks, doesn't it.

: : Agreed. Death has a dramatic effect on the circulatory system too.

: To have cold feet is to have doubts; to be afraid of a course of action and is of uncertain origin. The one reference that I found suggested that an old Italian (Lombard) proverb may be the source. The story goes that the expression signifies "to be without means or resources"; if someone is very poor then the chances of affording shoes are remote and the person therefore has cold feet. How this translated into our current usage has never been explained and it may be that the phrase has nothing to do with the proverb.
: A second explanation comes from an 1862 novel by Fritz Reuter in which a card player backs out of a game on the grounds that his feet are cold. One can imagine that he was fearful of losing all and his cold feet were as good an excuse as he could think of to help him get out of the game.

Here's what I thought about "cold feet." I thought having cold feet (often used when a person wants to back out of a wedding) was related to "taking the plunge." The person stuck a toe in the water, found it freezing, and decided NOT to take the plunge because she got cold feet. But, anyway, here's a source that agrees with Fritz Reuter:
COLD FEET - "The old Italian expression 'avegh minga frecc I pee' literally means 'to have cold feet' and the proverb in a figurative sense of 'to be without money' was used by Ben Jonson (English playwright and poet, 1572-1637) in his play 'Volpone.' Professor Kenneth McKenzie pointed this out in an article in Modern Language Notes (Vol. XXVII, 1912) and also explained how a phrase meaning 'to be without money' could come to mean 'to lose one's nerve.' In card-playing, he wrote a player 'as a pretext for quitting a game in which he has lost money (might) say that his feet are cold, (and) the expression might come to mean in general 'to recede from a difficult position,' or more specifically, 'to have cold feet.'' This may be true, but if it is, it didn't happen in Ben Jonson's time, to the best of our knowledge. 'Cold feet' in the sense of 'fear,' originated as an American expression in the 1890s. It could, however, have journeyed here with Italian immigrants, as the Italian proverb was still used in Lombardy at the time. Otherwise the expression must be marked 'of unknown origin' and perhaps refers to the association of fright with cold - chattering teeth, shivers, and chills, etc." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)