“Under the weather” is a common English phrase that suggests one is feeling sick. The phrase dates back to at least the 1800s but very likely earlier. It can be used in a variety of situations. For example, referring to one’s own illness, to a friend’s, a colleague’s, or a family member’s. It’s even possible to use the phrase to refer to multiple people.
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Meaning of “Under the weather”
“Under the weather” is used to describe someone’s physical state when they’re feeling sick. If someone says they’re feeling “under the weather” they mean that they feel worse than they usually do. They’re sick, but not so much so that they need to go to the hospital or seek medical care. The phrase is most commonly used when someone is suffering from something temporary like the flu or a cold. It’s an easy and accessible way to describe oneself or someone else.
When to Use “Under the weather”
It’s possible to use “under the weather” in a variety of situations. One might say it about themselves or about another person. It might even be used about more than one person to suggest that a couple, or even a family, is feeling sick. The phrase is colloquial, meaning that it belongs in everyday conversation among friends, family members, and close colleagues. It would likely not be found in a very formal setting. But, at the same time, it should be noted that this phrase can be read as an allusion, something that describes one thing without explicit details. Here, listeners will be well aware of what the speaker is alluding to without them having to say explicitly that someone is sick.
Example Sentences with “Under the weather”
- She isn’t coming in to work today, she’s feeling under the weather.
- Were you able to get anything done today despite feeling under the weather?
- The whole family is feeling under the weather and is staying home for the next couple of days.
- If anyone starts feeling under the weather they need to stay home from work.
- Our boss hasn’t been here for several days due to feeling under the weather.
- My dad always told me to keep working, even if I feel under the weather.
Why Do Writers Use “Under the weather?”
Writers use “under the weather” for the same reasons and in the same way that it’s used in everyday speech. As is the case with most phrases like “under the weather,” it can be equally helpful and unhelpful for writers to make use of it. In one instance it might make a piece of dialogue feel more realistic while in another it might seem forced and out of place, something that’s not at all beneficial. It should always be noted when dealing with idioms that not every reader is going to understand all idioms. This one, in particular, is a good example of how confusing idioms can be if one has never encountered a particular phrase before.
Origins of “Under the weather”
“Under the weather” is the perfect example of an idiom that does not have a defined source. There are several possible origins for this phrase but it’s unclear which if any is the real one. This is due to the fact that phrases such as this evolve over time. There is very rarely a clear progenitor of an idiom or proverb. Usually, the phrase starts out as one thing (something less metaphorical than its future iteration) and then changes over time, becoming better known and more commonly used as the years’ progress. Eventually, it gets to the point where no one can remember where the phrase began or if it is was ever used differently than it is today.
One possible origin comes out of sailing culture and the possible use of the phrase when a sailor was sick and sent under the deck. There, they could get out of the weather. They were physically “under” it. Another source, found in Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Bill Beavis and Michael Howorth states that the phrase also meant seasickness. The passage reads:
The term is correctly ‘under the weather bow’ which is a gloomy prospect; the weather bow is the side upon which all the rotten weather is blowing.
It should also be noted when discusses idioms like this that their origin is usually at a date prior to that which it first appeared in print.
- “On thin ice.”
- “Pull yourself together.”
- “No pain no gain.”
- “Break the ice.”
- “The best of both worlds.”