Under the Weather and Other Illness Idioms

Sick woman laying in bed, blowing her nose

Have you ever heard someone say they were under the weather? It’s likely that person was experiencing some slight illness.

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Have you ever heard someone say they were ‘under the weather?’ It’s likely that person was experiencing some slight illness.

I don’t mean so sick that you needed to see a doctor or go to the hospital. I’m talking about feeling just bad enough that you know something is wrong, and you won’t be able to function well.

An idiom you can use to express this feeling is under the weather.

(Prefer to watch this lesson on video? Here’s our full length tutorial on how to use the phrase ‘Under the Weather’):

‘Under the Weather’ in English’:

Here are some examples of its use:

  • I’m sorry I won’t be able to come into work today. I’m feeling a little under the weather.
  • Hey look, I can make it to work today, but just know that I’m under the weather and I may not perform at 100%.
  • She couldn’t attend the meeting last week because she was under the weather.

Under the weather means worn out or just a little sick and is another way to say “I’m not feeling well.” You might go to work or school, but it’s more likely you won’t be able to or shouldn’t if you’re feeling under the weather.

The phrase is universally known in American English, so anyone from any region and of any speaking age will understand what you mean. It’s taught very early as a polite way of expressing illness.

The phrase is used only with actual illness or tiredness and is not associated with drinking. I’m sorry, but if you had too much to drink last night, you’re not under the weather. You’re hungover.

Under the Weather Origin

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Under the weather is a strange phrase. People associate rainy or cold days with getting sick, but they say you have to stay outside in bad weather for a while.

And why under the weather? Why not in the weather? After all, in a plane, car or boat we say, “We ran into some bad weather.”

Where did this odd phrase come from?

The phrase actually has nautical (boat or ship related) origins and has been traced all the way back to the early 19th century (it could be older). At the time, when there was bad weather, sailors who were getting seasick would go below deck to get away from the conditions.

Sourced from the book: Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Bill Beavis and Michael Howorth, the original phrase is “under the weather bow” which is the side of the ship where the bad weather is blowing

Over time, the phrase left the mouths of sailors and made its way off the boats into the common language of everyone else. Knowyourphrase.com even cites a print usage of the word as early as 1835 that has no reference to sailors.

“‘I own Jessica is somewhat under the weather to-day, figuratively and literally,’ said the gentleman, amusedly, giving a glance at the lady over in the corner.” – Jeffersonville Daily Evening News, 1835.

Other Ways to Say You’re Sick, Tired, or Unwell

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Under the weather isn’t the only way to say you’re not feeling well. In English, there are a few other ways to express unpleasant feelings in the body, so let’s explore some of those phrases.

  • I’m feeling a little off.

Feeling a little off expresses you don’t feel well, but you’re not sure why. It could convey dizziness, fatigue, exhaustion, confusion, brain fog, or illness. This is a general expression that can be used in many contexts.

  • I’m not feeling so hot.

This expression has the same meaning as under the weather and is the closest phrase to a true synonym.

  • I’m feeling rough.

Rough is a chameleon of an expression because unlike under the weather this phrase can also imply that you were out all night and not necessarily sick. However, Americans also use it to convey illness.

  • I’m sick as a dog.

This is an older phrase that is a step above under the weather. If you’re sick as a dog, you’re truly sick and should be at home in bed and/or need to see a doctor. Hopefully, you won’t have to use this phrase very often.

  • I’m knocking on death’s door or I’m at death’s door.

Last, I hope you only hear or use this idiom as an exaggeration. It’s a way of stating that you or someone else is very, very ill. Again, it is generally an exaggerated statement, but you may hear it in a serious context. Be careful with this phrase as death can be an emotional topic for some people.

Conclusion

Along with under the weather, you now have a range of phrases you can use to express feelings of illness when you’re not well. Can you think of any more we forgot to mention? Leave a comment below and let us know about it.

For more resources on idioms be sure to visit our blogs on Funny Idioms and Business Idioms so you can express yourself like a native speaker.

And if you’re interested in learning more English grammar and speaking with other learners like yourself, we offer interactive exercises and unlimited automatic feedback with our starters offer.

With that, you have access to our Magoosh English Speaking Slack Group where you can get peer feedback from advanced students. It’s a great way to take your English learning to the next level!

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