phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Feed a cold and starve a fever

Posted by ESC on October 21, 2000

In Reply to: Feed a cold. starve a fever posted by keith on October 20, 2000

: what is the true text and origin of this phrase.

FEED A COLD AND STARVE A FEVER - This saying evolved from medical advice from the 1500s. The source quoted here says that, unfortunately, the advice was garbled in the translation and that we have apparently gotten it wrong. The saying is actually more like 'If you stuff a cold, then you're going to have to feed a fever later.'

"Certainly among the most familiar of proverbs on home remedies, this old saw is by no means a sure cure. In fact, there is even disagreement over what advice is being given. The English lexicographer John Withals observed in 'A Short Dictionary Most Profitable for Young Beginners' , 'Fasting is a great remedie in feuers,' providing what might seem an early basis for the current saying. But the contrary recommendation appeared soon afterward in Stegano Guazzo's 'The Civile Conversation' : 'It is better to feede a fever, then weakness.' Centuries later Edward FitzGerald in 'Polonius recorded the current proverb for the first time, as well as a note on what was already a common misconception: 'In the case of.a Cold - Stuff a cold and starve a fever,' has been grievously misconstrued, so as to bring on the fever it was meant to prevent.' In 'The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County . Mark Twain Quoted the exact wording of the current saying, but in 1881 the publication 'Notes and Queries' explained, 'Stuff a cold,' &c. The expression is elliptical, for (if you) stuff a cold, (you will have to) starve a fever,' which is to say stuffing yourself while you have a cold will supposedly bring on a fever. Despite the confusion and no little uncertainty as to whether it really is a remedy at all, 'Feed a cold.' has been repeated (and misunderstood) up to the present day. It seems the best advice is still that fairly recent prescription, 'Call your doctor.'" From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).