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  #1  
Old 03-21-2004, 03:04 PM
Scarf-Ace Scarf-Ace is offline
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Whats the origin of the expression "cold feet"?

You know, as in "Billy was about to [daring action] but got cold feet.".
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  #2  
Old 03-21-2004, 04:07 PM
Gary T Gary T is offline
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Common sense and personal experience tell me it's a reference to intending to wade out into deeper water, only to stop and reconsider after taking a few steps because one's feet feel like they're encased in ice.
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Old 03-21-2004, 04:37 PM
j666 j666 is offline
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In short, no one really knows.

I found this:

"Cold feet" as a synonym for "timid" seems to date from the late 19th century, but its exact origin is uncertain. Experts have long suspected that the phrase might have something to do with the military, an environment which certainly offers a plethora of things to fear. It is entirely possible that "to get cold feet" originally referred to soldiers who exempted themselves from battle by complaining that their feet were frozen.

A more intriguing possible origin, however, dates back to the 17th century, when "to have cold feet" meant "to have no money," probably referring to someone being so poor as to lack shoes. The transition from the "no money" sense to the modern "timid" sense of "cold feet" may be found in an 1862 German novel in which a card player withdraws from a game claiming that he has "cold feet" (i.e., no money), when in fact he has merely lost his nerve. "To get cold feet," goes the theory, then eventually came to mean backing out of any risky situation, whatever excuse was given.
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Old 03-21-2004, 06:10 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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j66 You really should give Evan Morris a cite when you quote that much verbatim.

Word-Detective
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Old 03-21-2004, 09:49 PM
j666 j666 is offline
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You're right, of course; I don't know why I did that, when posting the link would have been easier.

I may not have wanted to attribute the explanation because I found it wanting.

I think that this one at 'Take Our Word for It' is better, although it leaves out the detail of the German novel. Interestingly, this Australian site says that it is an American expression that was adopted by the Australian as 'cold footer'.
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Old 03-22-2004, 06:08 AM
Scarf-Ace Scarf-Ace is offline
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Interesting, I think the military explanation seems like the more likely but etymology can be a funny thing.

Maybe I should ask the Master?
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Old 03-22-2004, 09:12 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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I can beat that 1893 cite. I found an 1890 cite, and it was referring to a fellow in a card game backing out. Of course that could lend support to the theory that being broke might have been the original inspiration for the term.

I might could trace if back farther except I get 50 hits for "cold feet" referring to medical problems for every 1 I get as a slang expression. Too frustrating.
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Old 11-09-2011, 12:52 PM
JulKat JulKat is offline
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Cold Feet

Actually, the human body has a fear response that causes it to withdraw blood flow to the extremities during times of extreme stress and fear. That's where the expression comes from.
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Old 11-09-2011, 01:38 PM
tdn tdn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JulKat View Post
Actually, the human body has a fear response that causes it to withdraw blood flow to the extremities during times of extreme stress and fear. That's where the expression comes from.
That's what I was thinking, but I have nothing to back that up.
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  #10  
Old 11-09-2011, 01:43 PM
kenobi 65 kenobi 65 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tdn View Post
That's what I was thinking, but I have nothing to back that up.
Indeed; without a citation, it's just opinion (even if backed by common sense).

Welcome to the SDMB, JulKat! FYI, this particular forum (General Questions) does lean towards cited facts, as noted in the FAQ thread:

Quote:
7. Guesses, WAGs, and speculation. We permit some educated guessing. Truly wild guesses aren't especially helpful. We have some experts who post here. If you don't have much information, give an expert a chance to answer by waiting until a question is about to fall off the first page before making a guess. If you post a factual claim, be prepared to back it up with a citation. If someone asks for a citation, don't take it personally, we're trying to get to the facts here, and that's how it's done.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 11-09-2011 at 01:46 PM..
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  #11  
Old 11-10-2011, 08:57 AM
constanze constanze is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JulKat View Post
Actually, the human body has a fear response that causes it to withdraw blood flow to the extremities during times of extreme stress and fear. That's where the expression comes from.
Mythbusters tested part of that: yes, when people are afraid their feet do get colder (quite measurably - several degrees!) because of the automatic fight-or-flight response.

Whether that is the origin of the expression they didn't discuss or couldn't prove (because it didn't involve spiders or parachute jumping to get fear reactions) .
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  #12  
Old 11-11-2011, 04:53 PM
janeslogin janeslogin is offline
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The rather well respected Online Etymology Dictionary gives "1893, Amer.Eng.; the presumed Italian original (avegh minga frecc i pee) is a Lombard proverb meaning "to have no money," but some of the earliest English usages refer to gamblers, so a connection is possible."
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