In Cold Blood: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
September 28, 2023

The idiom "in cold blood" means to do something cruel, ruthless, or unemotional, especially to kill someone without feeling or mercy.

In short:

  • It implies that someone acts in a heartless, merciless, or emotionless way.
  • It usually pertains to taking someone's life without any pity or remorse.

What Does "In Cold Blood" Mean?

The idiom "in cold blood" describes an action that is deliberately unfeeling or heartless, usually with a negative connotation. It is most often associated with murder or violence, but it can also be used for other types of actions that show a lack of sympathy or compassion.

Where Does "In Cold Blood" Come From?

The idiom "in cold blood" originated from the early modern period, when people believed that blood was the seat of emotion and that its temperature varied according to one's mood or state of mind. According to this theory, hot blood indicates passion, anger, or excitement, while cold blood indicates calmness, rationality, or indifference. Therefore, doing something in cold blood meant doing it without emotion or feeling.

Furthermore, the idiom became popular after Truman Capote published his nonfiction novel "In Cold Blood" in 1966. The book told the true story of the brutal murders of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, by two drifters named Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.

Historical Example

"The cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father."

ā€”excerpt from Shakespeare's play "Henry IV Part II," in 1600

10 Examples of "In Cold Blood" in Sentences

Here are some examples of how to use this idiom in different sentences:

  • Oh, snap. She stabbed him in cold blood and then calmly called the police.
  • It sucks ass. The terrorists showed no mercy and shot the hostages in cold blood.
  • The lion attacked the gazelle in cold blood, ignoring its cries of pain. That's too bad.
  • He was accused of killing his wife in cold blood and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • The spy betrayed his country in cold blood and sold classified information to the enemy.
  • Let it be. The jury found him guilty of killing his neighbor in cold blood over a petty dispute.
  • Ben was accused of stabbing his friend in cold blood during a drunken brawl on an evening out.
  • What a kack. The serial killer confessed to killing 12 people in cold blood and showed no remorse.
  • No diggity. He swore to avenge his brother's death, who was murdered in cold blood by a rival gang.
  • The assassin was hired to kill the politician in cold blood but failed to complete his mission in a time crunch.

Examples of "In Cold Blood" in Pop Culture

Here are some examples of how this idiom has been used in various forms of popular culture:

  • In Cold Blood: This is the title of Truman Capote's nonfiction novel, as well as two film adaptations (1967 and 1996) and a TV miniseries (1996) based on it. The book and its adaptations are considered classics of the true crime genre and have influenced many other works.
  • In Cold Blood: This is also the title of a 1994 song by British rock band Alt-J about a murder committed by two lovers. The song features the lyrics: "In cold blood / I'm gonna kill you / In cold blood."
  • In Cold Blood: This is the title of a 2000 video game developed by Revolution Software, a spy thriller set in the post-Cold War era. The game follows the adventures of John Cord, an MI6 agent who is framed for murder and has to clear his name.
  • In Cold Blood: This is the title of a 2012 episode of the TV series Criminal Minds, about a team of FBI profilers investigating serial killers and other violent criminals. The episode features a case where a family is killed by an unknown assailant who leaves behind a message written in blood: "In Cold Blood."

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "In Cold Blood"

Here are some synonyms or alternative ways to say this idiom:

  • With no pity
  • With no remorse
  • In a cruel manner
  • With no compassion
  • In a ruthless manner
  • In a heartless manner
  • In a relentless manner
  • In an unfeeling manner
  • With malice aforethought
  • In an emotionless manner

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "In Cold Blood"

Here are some common questions that people may have about this idiom:

  • What does "in cold blood" mean?

The idiom "in cold blood" means to do something cruel, ruthless, or unemotional, especially to kill someone without feeling or mercy.

  • What is the origin of the phrase "in cold blood"?

The idiom "in cold blood" originated from the early modern period, when people believed that blood was the seat of emotion and that its temperature varied according to one's mood or state of mind.

  • Is "in cold blood" always negative?

Yes, the idiom "in cold blood" always has a negative connotation and implies a lack of morality or humanity. It is usually used to criticize or condemn someone's action as evil or wicked.

  • Can "in cold blood" be used for animals?

Yes, the idiom "in cold blood" can be used for animals, especially when humans kill or harm them for no reason or selfish motives.

  • What is the difference between "in cold blood" and "cold-blooded"?

The idiom "in cold blood" is an adverbial phrase that modifies an action or verb, while "cold-blooded" is an adjective that modifies a noun or pronoun.

  • What are some antonyms of "in cold blood"?

Some antonyms or opposite expressions of "in cold blood" are "in the heat of passion," "with sympathy," "with mercy," and "with compassion."

  • How can I use "in cold blood" in a question?

You can use "in cold blood" in a question by placing it after the verb or action you are asking about.

Example: Did he really kill her in cold blood?

  • Is "in cold blood" a metaphor or a simile?

The idiom "in cold blood" is a metaphor, a figure of speech that compares two things that are not alike but share some typical quality or idea. A metaphor does not use the words "like" or "as" to make the comparison.

  • Can I use "in cold blood" in formal writing?

Yes, you can use "in cold blood" in formal writing as long as it is appropriate for the context and tone of your writing. The idiom "in cold blood" is not slang or informal but a literary expression many writers and speakers have used for centuries. However, you should be careful not to overuse or use it vaguely or exaggeratedly. You should also explain or support your claim if you accuse someone of doing something in cold blood.

  • Can I use "in cold blood" in other languages?

Yes, you can use "in cold blood" in other languages as long as an equivalent expression or translation conveys the same meaning and nuance. However, you should be aware that different languages may have different ways of expressing the idea of doing something cruelly or unemotionally and that some idioms may not have direct translations.

Final Thoughts About "In Cold Blood"

The idiom "in cold blood" is a powerful and expressive way of describing an action that is cruel, ruthless, or unemotional, especially to kill someone without feeling or mercy.

In summary:

  • It dates back to the late 1400s and is based on a medieval medical belief that blood temperature was related to emotion and passion.
  • It became famous after Truman Capote's nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, which told the true story of the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Kansas by two drifters.
  • It is often associated with murder or violence but can also be used for other actions that show a lack of sympathy or compassion.
  • It has some synonyms or alternative expressions that can be used interchangeably.
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