Coin That Phrase: The Cold Shoulder

When Simpson Street Free Press director Jim asked me if I knew what the phrase “giving someone the cold shoulder” meant, I thought about it for a while and realized that, though I have heard the phrase, I don’t actually know what it means. Mckenna, an SSFP editor, overheard and offered an explanation. She said that people use this phrase when they want to ignore someone, as a sign of dislike. I began to think about it, but it still didn’t seem to make sense; why does “giving the cold shoulder” mean something negative?

I turned to the internet for answers. It turns out, historians are not certain where the phrase originated, but many think the idiom was popularized in the 1810s by Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Antiquary. In this book, Sir Scott describes a young lady ignoring someone she does not like, and deems this “the cold shoulder.”

Others think the phrase began much earlier, during medieval times. During this period, when a family had guests stay overnight, they might serve them a warm bowl of soup and a cozy room. But if the guest overstayed his or her welcome, the host might serve a plateful of leftover cold mutton instead, so the guest would get the hint.

Even though this phrase has an uncertain origin, many people still use it today. So the next time someone annoys you, make sure to whip out a nice, moldy plate of cold mutton shoulder and tell them to “enjoy.”