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Where did that phrase come from - Cold feet
Stan St. Clair

I’m trying to get my mind off the negative things going around in the world right now. But that doesn’t mean I lack the courage to accept it, and take proper action to protect myself and others. Which brings us to my topic for this column, having “cold feet.”

This old idiom refers to someone having a lack of courage about taking some impending action. It is most commonly attributed to Stephen Crane in his 1893 novella, “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets” which states: “I knew this was the way it would be. They got cold feet.”

By the early 20th century it was being included in English college slang. It was used by some during World War I to refer to those afraid to go into battle.

There was however, earlier usage of the term in a popular German novel by Fritz Rueter, “Ut Mine Stromtid,” or “An Old Story of My Farming Days,” written about 1862. When translated into English in 1878, in banter over a player backing out of a card game, another player says:

“If you suffer from cold feet,” said Brasig, “I will tell you an excellent cure ...”

In another book written about the same time, “Seed-Time and Harvest,” Rueter refers to a shoemaker getting “cold feet,” obviously as a pun.

But this still isn’t the actual coining of the roots of this figurative expression. Italian playwright Ben Jonson used a form of it in his satirical work “Volpore” in 1605.

“Let me tell you: I am not, as your Lombard proverb saith, cold on my feet; or content to part with my commodities at a cheaper rate than I am accustomed: look not for it.”  

Even as early as 1605, this was called a “Lombard proverb” in Italy. In Italy, it meant figuratively, “to be without money.” It is believed that it moved to English as “unwillingness to continue.”                                                                

If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at