True confessions: I wasn’t always the dashing townsman I became. I wasn’t the prettiest boy in my high school class (and it was a small class).
The best that can be said is that I was clean and well dressed, the downside being my sense of humor.
So, it should come as no surprise that on more than one occasion my date gave me the “cold shoulder” – and it was usually the shoulder closest to me.
Now, that was true in more than the metaphorical sense.
As a review of ninth grade English, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that usually means one thing is used for another thing to suggest a resemblance between the two. Thus, as a metaphor, turning a cold shoulder towards someone implies a look of disdain or an attempt to discourage further attention.
If I had been the first to experience this action, I could have claimed to have invented the expression, but Sir Walter Scott beat me to it.
In 1816 he wrote in the Scots language in “The Antiquary“: “You may notice the dislike of the countess at first did no more than show the cauld shouther.” Translated, “cauld” means cold and “shouther” means shoulder, as Scott illustrates with contextual language in his work.
We don’t know if the Countess stripped her, but it indicates she wasn’t happy.
Scott may have mistranslated the Latin phrase “dedurunt umerum recedentem” from the book “Nehemiah” of the “Vulgate Bible”, which actually means “they have stubbornly turned their backs on you”.
From a cold shoulder to a turned back is no more than a simple shrug for everything to make sense.
Scott liked it so much he used it in another of his works, “St. Ronan’s Well.
By the 1820s, the phrase had traveled to America and entered common parlance.
A letter to the editor (we know what it is) of the New England newspaper The Bangor Daily Whig and Courier – I suppose we know their political leanings – stated “…eminent persons and advisers to his cabinet turned their backs on their ambassador, for his independent act on this occasion.
In one of my references, the author attempts to explain the phrase by saying that it stems from serving a cold shoulder of mutton to an unwanted guest. Most learned linguists simply say it is an incorrect etymology.
The Vulgates probably started it all and Sir Walter Scott used it as he chose.
If we slide down the anatomy – without stopping where you guessed it – we come to the phrase “having cold feet”.
It involves withdrawing from an action or agreement, not continuing with the process.
Its roots have been forgotten but it emerged in the 1890s and may have stemmed from a husband not wanting to get out of bed in the winter, his feet pounding the ground to investigate a noise (or maybe not).
If you combine the two metaphors, you might have a young woman who thought she wanted a young man’s attention for getting cold feet and giving him the cold shoulder. Just thinking about it freezes me.
I don’t think it mentions these concerns on most dating sites, but I wouldn’t know. When I was courting the CEO, a dating site was often the college cafe on a cold morning.