Cold Feet: Meaning and History Behind the Idiom

By , Staff Writer
cold feet meaning with fearful man
    cold feet woman illustration with meaning
    girl: Kudryavtsev Pavel / iStock / Getty Images Plus / ice: stockakia / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

Have you ever gotten cold feet? Rather than talking about frosty feet, having "cold feet" means you are apprehensive about something. Get a full definition of the "cold feet" meaning, history and example sentences.

What Does Getting Cold Feet Mean?

You might have heard of a bride or groom getting cold feet. But what exactly does "cold feet" mean? Well, it doesn’t mean that their feet were literally cold. Instead, "cold feet" or "getting cold feet" is an idiom to mean you're scared or anxious about something happening in the near future. It could be getting married, running a race, making a move, or even traveling to a new country. There are lots of times when people get anxious about something.

Synonyms for Cold Feet

"Cold feet" works as a great idiom, but it can be helpful to look at synonyms when trying to understand its meaning. A few different synonyms you might see for "cold feet" include:

  • falter

  • delay

  • drag your feet

  • stall

  • change you're mind

  • hesitate

  • lose courage

  • lose confidence

How to Use Cold Feet in a Sentence

If you’re still having trouble trying to picture how to use the idiom "cold feet," then sentence examples can be helpful. Dive into several fun sentences using the phrase "cold feet."

  1. The bride started to get cold feet when it came time to book the wedding hall.

  2. Matthew got cold feet at his Freshman orientation. It was going to be hard for him to leave his home.

  3. My brother was getting cold feet about the move.

  4. The officer got cold feet about handing the investigation over to the new agency.

  5. She was getting cold feet about the 16-hour flight for her vacation.

  6. Tatyana got cold feet about going over the mile-long bridge.

  7. The man had cold feet about the new bus route that went through the tunnel.

  8. She didn’t want to have cold feet about her marriage tomorrow, but it was hard to ignore.

  9. It was hard not to get cold feet the night before moving to a new state.

  10. I knew it was important to tell her, but I had cold feet.

History of Cold Feet

While the term "cold feet" can date back to German idioms of the 1600s, its current usage can be traced back to writer Stephen Crane, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The first instance of "cold feet" used within print was found in Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. However, the term was used in conversational English before that. It was commonly heard during the war. In fact, boys that were hesitant to fight in the war were called the derogatory term, cold-feeters. The term took off after Crane’s publication and now grooms or brides that are hesitant to get married are said to have "cold feet."

Marriage and Cold Feet

While the famous idiom "cold feet" can be used in all different types of situations, it’s most commonly linked to getting married. It completely makes sense though. Getting married is a big life decision that many people have second thoughts about. Therefore, more often than not, you might hear about a bride or groom getting "cold feet" before stepping into the church.

Do You Have Cold Feet?

The cold feet idiom has nothing to do with your feet being frosty. Rather, it’s when someone is hesitant or apprehensive about something happening in their immediate future. This could be getting married, taking a trip or even stealing a candy bar. Now that you’ve learned about cold feet, explore another body part idiom with the phrase "break a leg." Then, check out a few idioms for kids.