Cold feet

Cold feet is an idiom with an uncertain etymology. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, close but no cigar, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expression cold feet, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To have cold feet means to be timid, to be hesitant to do something, to back out of a commitment, to lose heart or to lose courage. Someone who has cold feet has become faint-hearted, fearful, or simply has reconsidered his position and has second thoughts. Someone who breaks an engagement or reneges on a promise to marry someone is said to have gotten cold feet. However, the term cold feet may apply to any situation in which one suddenly becomes reticent, such as an investment or business deal. The idiom cold feet is attributed to Stephen Crane’s 1896 novel Maggie, a Girl of the Streets. However, earlier uses of the expression have been found. Some have traced the term to an Italian proverb quoted by Ben Johnson in his comedy play, Volpone, produced in 1605: “Let me tell you: I am not, as your Lombard proverb saith, cold on my feet; or content to part with my commodities at a cheaper rate than I am accustomed: look not for it.” In this case, cold on my feet means to be lacking money. Of course, the phrase cold feet may also simply refer to feet that are not warm due to ambient temperature or frostbite, arterial disease, Raynaud’s Syndrome, underactive thyroid or neuropathy.


Be prepared for her to experience cold feet, but remind her when she does waver that this change is for both of you because your health now needs attention. (The Bemidji Pioneer)

Because Intel was getting cold feet about phones, it will have told Apple it couldn’t guarantee the product needed, leaving Apple with no choice but to capitulate. (The Register)

“I got cold feet, and I just thought I wouldn’t make it through the drug court because of the people I hung around with and how rampant the drugs are around here,” Mackey told the court. (The Fremont Tribune)

Buzzfeed pointed out that Chopra also revealed that she nearly got cold feet before marrying Nick Jonas in December. (Elle Magazine)

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