The weather has taken a turn for the worse and I thought this would be a good time to talk about some suitable winter sayings and idioms. Strangely enough, although most of these involve wintery terms, very few are actually to do with the weather.
For a more uplifting set of idioms, please check out the article about summer idioms.
The cold shoulder
To give someone the cold shoulder is to deliberately ignore someone.
To freeze (up)
Like extreme stage fright – to become so frightened and anxious that you are unable to move or speak.
If you get cold feet, you lose courage. For example, “He was supposed to play a solo during the concert but got cold feet and didn’t turn up at all”.
What happens when addicts suddenly stop taking drugs and their bodies react negatively, often involving vomiting, diarrhoea, sweats and chills.
Emotionless, without feeling. Often used as a description for murder, possibly also for describing a spouse in a loveless marriage.
Left out in the cold
Excluded from a group or activity – ignored or forgotten.
Either in a very deep sleep or more commonly knocked out in a boxing fight. Could also be the result of an accident or collision.
When hell freezes over
Never – as in “I’ll date him/her when hell freezes over”. The idea is that hell is supposed to be fiery and will stay that way forever. Which leads us to …
A snowball’s chance in hell
Used to describe something that is extremely unlikely.
Tip of the iceberg
Apparently, 90% of an iceberg is under the water and not visible. We used this expression to indicate that a problem is worse than it seems. For example, “Sales are down, but this is just the tip of the iceberg”.
On thin ice
In a dangerous predicament. The idea being that if you’re walking on thin ice, you don’t know if the ice will hold (and result in safety) or whether the ice will break (plunging you into icy water).
To break the ice
People are standing around awkwardly and don’t really know what to say to the other people. Starting social interaction and conversation is breaking the ice.
To put something on ice
To delay or postpone something. Alternative non-winter version is to put something on the back burner.
Pure as the driven snow
A somewhat old-fashioned expression used to describe chaste and pure females. The idea is that a snowdrift is untouched. We can also use this ironically to describe people who are the exact opposite of pure and chaste but will need the use of eye rolls. Another ironic version is “pure as the driven slush”.
Where something increases in size or importance over time. Literally, like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill, it will get bigger and move faster over time. Often used to describe a sales process, in which the initially small sales numbers will increase exponentially over time as public awareness increases.
To be overwhelmed (usually) with work.
Winter sayings that actually describe cold weather
It was so cold, I saw a dog stuck to a lamppost
You need to visualise this. Imagine how cold it would have to be, that when a dog lifts his leg to piss on a lamppost, the pee freezes and the dog is stuck to the lamppost by the frozen stream.
It is/was cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey
This is a very common expression in England. Before you start feeling sorry for metallic simians, this apparently comes from the Royal Navy, but there are those who doubt this claim.
Back in the old days, it seemed that everything was a monkey of some sort, for example, the guy who put the powder in the cannons was the powder monkey. Cannonballs are heavy and the last thing you wanted on a rolling sea would be to have one fall on your foot. To prevent this, they placed the cannon balls in a brass plate with holes in it. The balls would sit in this (the brass monkey in the expression) and would stay put if the weather was rough.
The larger the hole, the safer the situation. They made the holes almost the size of the cannon balls to maximise the effect.
As we all know from school physics, if a metal sheet with a hole is heated, the hole gets smaller. Conversely, if the weather was cold, the cannon balls would get smaller and the hole would get larger and if the cold was extreme enough, the ball would fall through the hole, hence the expression “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.
Of all the winter sayings, this is perhaps my personal favourite.
Winter sayings – summary
Did I miss any of your favourite winter sayings? Please use the comments to tell me.