phrases, sayings, proverbs and idioms at

The Phrase Finder

Home button Home | Search the phrases.org.uk website Search | Phrase Dictionary | Colder than a witch's tit

The meaning and origin of the expression: Colder than a witch's tit

Browse phrases beginning with:
 
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T UV W XYZ Full List

Colder than a witch's tit

Other phrases about:

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Colder than a witch's tit'?

'Colder than a witch's tit' is an expressive way of saying 'very cold' - usually in reference to the weather.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Colder than a witch's tit'?

It would be nice to be able to present evidence of the use of 'colder than a witch's tit' dating from the era of Matthew Hopkins, the English Witchfinder General, that is, the 1640s. However, this expression is much more recent.

Colder than a witch's tit'The evocative phrase, (which is not 'colder than a witches tit' by the way, that's just a spelling mistake), is sometimes written as 'as cold as a witch's tit'.

It appears to have been first put into print by the American historian and writer Francis Van Wyck Mason, in one of his mystery novels, Spider House, 1932:

It's cold as a witch's tit outside.

In the 1949 version of the book that I have access to Mason didn't use the above line, preferring 'as cold as an Arctic gale', 'as cold as the scrape of an ice shovel on an icy pavement', 'as cold as a gravestone', 'as cold as Pharaoh's heart'. Why we opted for these and not the 'witch's tit' he used in the 1932 edition isn't clear.

Mason may have coined the expression or it may have been street slang that he had heard. The use of the other evocative and self-penned 'as cold as...' phrases in his 1949 edition does suggest he may have invented the phrase himself. Either way, we can be sure that it dates from around that time and was coined in the USA. Whoever coined it may have been making an allusion back to the days of the witch hunters.

It was believed in the 17th century that witch's would suckle their familiars with teats on various parts of their body. Evidence of such a 'witch mark', which didn't bleed when pricked, was considered sufficient proof of witchery.

Not everyone was convinced by that method. The English cleric John Webster made his doubts public in his denouncement of witch hunting Displaying Supposed Witchcraft, 1677:

Now if all these [warts, etc.] were Witch-marks, then few would go free.

A more probable explanation is that the expression, along with the more effusive, 'as cold as a witch's tit in a brass brassiere' was just a graphic form of language used for effect. In that it has something in common with the other 'brass' cold weather-related phrase, 'brass monkey weather'.

A 'witch's kiss' variant can be found somewhat earlier, in the Illinois newspaper The Daily Register-Gazette, June 1918:

The inside of a cloud is cold as a witch’s kiss. 

This may have been in the mind when 'witch's tit' was coined or it may be coincidence.

There are numerous slang terms to denote cold weather. As I'm typing this on a frosty January day in the North of England I'll forego brass (which here means money) and stick to the local Yorkshire dialect and say "It's nitherin' outside".

Other 'cold' expressions:

Cold as any stone

Cold comfort

Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Cold feet

Cold shoulder

Cold turkey

Contact | About us | Privacy Policy | Copyright © Gary Martin, 2019