Posted tagged ‘idioms’

Feeling Under the Weather

January 20, 2012

In the middle of the week, while not feeling well due to some nasty bug that I had caught some place and which grounded me at home, I had to excuse myself from a couple of meetings.

“I am a bit under the weather” I declared, knowing that I would be understood with no further explanation. By stating this, I also excused myself for not finishing some tasks as I had planned. I felt relieved and pardoned for being a bit lazy for a couple of days and having more time for sleep and for reading in bed. In truth I almost welcomed it – it felt a bit like a mini-vacation – feeling free from all kinds of responsibilities.

I bet many people are “under the weather” at this time of the year, especially where it is cold and nasty. Suddenly I was puzzled why am I saying this, here in Tucson where the sky is blue most of the time and the sun’s intensity is as strong in winter as on Cape Cod in summer?

Why do we use this phrase “under the weather?” After all, weather is always upon us – sunshine, rain or snow – we are always under some kind of weather. The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became. I wanted to know the origin of this idiom. And where could I find the answer for it if not on Google, right?

From I learned that this colloquial expression for sick or ill originated on British sailing ships. “When a sailor became ill he was confined below deck out of the weather, so it was said that he was under the weather.”

One of the Yahoo! ® ANSWERS informed me that the correct term is “under the weather bow” and referred to feeling adversely affected by bad weather. The explanation is that the weather bow is the side of the ship “upon which all the rotten weather is blowing.” This is according to the book Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey.

I found a couple of very different explanations in answerbag ®.

By Anonymous on April 24th 2008:

“The phrase under the weather originally had nothing to do with weather. The correct phrase is under the wether. It refers to the fact that female sheep resist the efforts of the castrated male sheep to mount them. When the female is so ill that she cannot resist the wether’s attentions, she is literally under the wether.”

By joeymanos on April 16th 2010:

“I have heard that it comes from Maritime language. Apparently, when the captain of a ship wrote his log, he recorded the names of ill crew members directly beneath his description of the weather that day. Hence, ‘under the weather’.”

For me the first explanation of a nautical origin for “under the weather” is most convincing.

Ship on stormy waters

I was tempted to search and write about the expression “it is raining cats and dogs”

Raining cats and dogs

or “it was cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”

Three brass monkeys

but I encourage you to find them yourself, while I sit on our sunny deck under Tucson’s blue sky trying to get rid of this “under the weather“ condition of mine.

Umbrella, roof and sky

Till the next post of my blog, warm greetings – Alicja

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Text copyright © 2012 by Alicja Mann. Image sources:

  3. enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.html
  4. Alicja Mann Photography
  5. jonnytbirdzback on YouTube

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