They gave him the cold shoulder: Idiomatic phrases with ‘cold’.

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by Liz Walter

Last month I looked at phrases containing the word ‘hot’, and this month I am looking at the opposite: phrases containing the word ‘cold’. Whereas ‘hot’ phrases are mostly concerned either with very good things or with strong emotions, ‘cold’ phrases are usually negative. We often use them to describe fear, unfriendliness or lack of emotion.

For instance, if you give someone the cold shoulder, you ignore them or act in an unfriendly way towards them, even though you know them. We can also say that someone gets/is given the cold shoulder when this happens to them:

She gave me the cold shoulder when I tried to talk to her.

Max did his best to be friendly to Lucas, but he got the cold shoulder.

If we say that someone does something cruel, especially killing someone, in cold blood, we mean that they do it in a calm, cruel way and do not seem to feel any emotion. We often describe a particularly cruel act or the person that commits that act as cold-blooded:

Armed men burst into his house and shot him in cold blood.

Police describe the killing as a ‘cold-blooded murder’.

If someone is in a cold sweat, they are very scared or worried. We say that people break out in a cold sweat when they start to feel like this:

When Julian saw that the money was gone, he broke out in a cold sweat.

Someone who is cold-hearted does not feel any sympathy for other people. We sometimes call someone like this a cold fish:

Cold-hearted thieves stole her son’s new bike.

His new girlfriend seems a bit of a cold fish.

If we describe something that should make a bad situation better as cold comfort, we meant that it does not make it better, or only makes it very slightly better:

It was cold comfort to discover that several other people had been tricked in the same way.

In a very visual idiom, if someone pours/throws cold water on an idea, plan or opinion, they say negative things about it and stop people being excited by it:

My teachers poured cold water on my ambition to become a footballer.

I will finish with a nice idiom that has both ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ in it. If you blow hot and cold about something or someone, you are sometimes positive about them and sometimes negative:

I’m not sure if she’s happy at university. She keeps blowing hot and cold about it.

Do you have similar ‘cold’ phrases in your first language? Let us know in the comments!

23 thoughts on “They gave him the cold shoulder: Idiomatic phrases with ‘cold’.

  1. NKINDI John

    Thanks very much. And happiest new year to You 😁‼

    On 1/8/20, About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

  2. aleov

    Absolutely, negative as well as possitive, using “frío” o “caliente” and we also use what we call “oxímoron”, in which both are used as in “hielo abrazador, silencio ensordecedor, la docta ignorancia, ciencias ocultas, etc”

    1. BRIKI

      In French language,we find the same idioms and meaning such as ‘to blow the hot and the cold’ where the adjectives become nouns- substantives,or’ cold-blood ‘…as in Arabic, there is rather the idiom ‘cold-hearted’ and even hot or cold blood’..Thanks and happy new year

    2. Rodrigo TP

      Hey, just a little correction: “abrasador” is the correct way to right this word, for it comes from “brasa” wich means “ember.”

  3. Ida

    Hi! Yes, in Italian we have two phrases that are basically literal translations of the English ones:

    In cold blood = a sangue freddo;
    In a cold sweat = sudare a freddo.

    And they have the same meaning in both languages.

  4. irene9375

    Hello, thank you so much for this article. I’m glad to read it!

    In Russian language we have a similiar phrases. Also we have these ones – “dog’s cold” which means very cold and “in cold and in hunger” – when sb says about poverty.

  5. Thảo

    It’s interesting how idioms including the word “cold” (“lạnh”) in Vietnamese seem to overlap a lot with those in English.
    Here we have:
    1. Cold blood = “Máu lạnh” as in “kẻ giết người máu lạnh” (literally ‘cold-blooded murderer’)
    2. Give someone the cold shoulder = “lạnh nhạt với ai đó” as in “cư xử lạnh nhạt”
    3. Pours/throws cold water on = “đổ gáo nước lạnh vào đầu”
    And so on 🙂 That’s all I can remember for now

  6. Marcel Beleyn

    In Dutch and Flemish you can ‘come home from a cold fair’ ( ‘thuiskomen van een koude kermis’), which means ‘ to be dispappointed’. I never come home ‘from a cold fair’ when I visit this site!!! On the contrary!

  7. Tatiana Balandina

    In the Russian language there are similar expressions.The only one that has different meaning is this: When someone is poured with cold water it means that he or she got some unexpected negative news or information.

  8. Jixun Han

    In Chinese 4-characteristics idioms, there is one:
    if someone is ‘Drinking Left Rice-paste and Eating Cold BBQ’, it’s to say that person is begging other’s sympathy (usually get none in that person’s real heart, but only some useless materials on hands), without being really respected.

  9. Szilard Szabo

    Thank you for this wonderful collection of ‘cold’ idioms. In Hungarian we have equivalents with a slightly different wording for the following idiomatic expressions: ‘in cold blood’, ‘pour could water on’ and ‘blow hot and cold’. However, instead of pouring cold water on something we can say ‘you can drink cold water on it’ to someone who hopes that something will happen as planned, but in reality it’s not very likely at all.
    I also have a question, though, about one of the sentences of the article which reads: ‘If we describe something that should make a bad situation better as cold comfort, we meant that it does not make it better, or only makes it very slightly better’. In the main clause, shouldn’t it be just ‘we mean that it does not make it better..’ instead of ‘we meant…’?

  10. Cari

    “Jemanden die kalte Schulter zeigen” is german and can be translated with “show someone the cold shoulder” and has exactly the same meaning as described for “give someone the cold shoulder”

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