Under the Weather: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 2, 2023

"Under the weather" is an idiom commonly used to express that someone is feeling ill or not at their best. This phrase is frequently used in everyday conversation, illustrating a temporary state of health, be it physical or emotional.

In short:

"Under the weather" is a phrase used to denote a state of feeling unwell or less than optimal.

What Does "Under the Weather" Mean?

The idiom "under the weather" often suggests that someone is feeling somewhat ill or not in their best condition. It usually implies a mild state of illness, like a cold or minor stomach upset, rather than severe sickness. However, this phrase can also extend to general feelings of malaise or discomfort, both physically and emotionally.

Let's unpack its core meanings:

  • Typically, "under the weather" indicates a state of health that is less than optimal, often implying a minor illness or temporary ailment.
  • Though it's usually related to physical health, it can also describe emotional states, such as feeling low, stressed, or overwhelmed.
  • The phrase is widely used in both formal and informal contexts, though it's more prevalent in casual conversation.

Where Does "Under the Weather" Come From?

"Under the weather" originated from the maritime term "under the weather bow," referring to feeling queasy on the ship side exposed to rough weather. The term first appeared on land in Donald Grant Mitchell's book, Fudge Doings (1855), describing a character's unpleasant experience on a steamer. The character's lack of appetite and enjoyment revealed he was "a little under the weather." As time passed, the expression broadened to cover diverse discomforts, such as a bad day at work, failed romance, or any stressful situation.

Historical Example

"As I have been under the weather, we have not yet had our grand talk with the Moquis, but I hope will have it tomorrow."

- Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, 1854

10 Examples of "Under the Weather" in Sentences

Here are some examples of the idiom in use:

  • She's happy to see him even though she's feeling a bit under the weather.
  • After a long night of studying, I woke up feeling under the weather.
  • I've been under the weather lately, so I need some time to mull it over before making a decision.
  • I appreciate your concern, and thanks for checking up on me while I've been under the weather.
  • Despite being under the weather, I know I need to step up my game and perform well at work.
  • Don't worry about me; I'm just a little under the weather, nothing serious.
  • She was clearly under the weather but insisted on going to work anyway.
  • If you're feeling under the weather, you should rest and take care of yourself.
  • He's been under the weather lately, so we haven't been going out as much.
  • Thanks heaps for the help; it's been tough getting things done while under the weather.

Examples of "Under the Weather" in Pop Culture

The phrase "under the weather" is regularly used in pop culture, representing a state of ill health or a low mood.

Let's look at some instances:

  • The song "Under the Weather" by KT Tunstall describes feeling down and in a state of emotional distress.
  • Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change” is a 2012 anthology of short stories by various authors.
  • Under the Weather” is a 2020 drama film by Canadian director and writer William D. MacGillivray. This film tells the story of Joe, a young man who is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Under the Weather"

There are various other expressions that convey a similar meaning to "under the weather."

Here are some of them:

  • Feeling poorly
  • Feeling sick
  • Feeling ill
  • Not well
  • In poor health
  • Out of sorts
  • Off-kilter
  • Indisposed
  • Unwell

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Under the Weather":

  • What does "under the weather" mean?

The phrase "under the weather" is used to describe a state of feeling unwell or not at one's best, usually due to minor illness or emotional distress.

  • How can I use "under the weather" in a sentence?

You can use "under the weather" to express feeling unwell. For instance, "I decided to stay home today because I'm feeling a bit under the weather."

  • Where does the idiom "under the weather" come from?

The phrase "under the weather" is believed to have originated from nautical terminology, referring to a seasick sailor sent below deck to avoid bad weather.

  • Is it okay to use it to describe severe illness?

No, typically "under the weather" refers to mild illness or temporary discomfort, not severe or chronic sickness.

  • Can "under the weather" be used to describe emotional states?

Yes, in addition to physical illness, "under the weather" can be used to describe feeling emotionally low or stressed.

  • Is it formal or informal?

"Under the weather" is a colloquial expression, but it is widely used in both informal and formal settings.

  • Is it okay to use it in a professional context?

Yes, it is acceptable to use "under the weather" in a professional context when explaining a mild illness or a day off.

  • Does "under the weather" always refer to physical health?

No, "under the weather" can also refer to mental or emotional states, such as feeling low, stressed, or overwhelmed.

  • Can I use "under the weather" to describe someone else?

Yes, you can use "under the weather" to describe someone else's state of health or mood. For example, "John seems a bit under the weather today."

  • Is "under the weather" used in other languages as well?

While the specific phrase "under the weather" is English, many languages have idioms to express the concept of feeling unwell or not up to par.

Final Thoughts About "Under the Weather"

The phrase "under the weather" effectively captures the common experience of feeling slightly unwell, whether due to physical illness or an emotional low. It serves as a gentle and non-specific way to express discomfort without going into detail, making it a versatile phrase in everyday language.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Under the weather" is a friendly way to say you're feeling unwell or down.
  • It denotes both physical and emotional states of being.
  • The phrase does not indicate severe illness but rather a temporary state of discomfort.

It is a universally understood expression that adds color and humanity to the language. Even when we're feeling a bit under the weather, language allows us to express and share our human experience.

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