The term “under the weather” is an English phrase that means someone is feeling sick or sad.
Example: I got hired as a car mechanic and I start first thing tomorrow. Unfortunately, I’ve come down with a bad illness and now I’m unsure of what to do. Should I call my boss and tell him I can’t come in because I’m feeling under the weather, or do I go to work and try to tough it out?
Synonyms: sick as a dog, in a bad way, not feeling so hot
When someone is feeling sick or sad, they might describe themselves as being “under the weather.” Where did this common phrase come from? It may have a nautical or seafaring origin. When commenting on the origins of this phrase, the website The Phrase Finder mentions that in older times, when a sailor was feeling seasick, he was sent below deck so he could get away from being under the harsh weather.
According to another source, a book called Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Bill Beavis (Author) and Michael Howorth (Author), this phrase originally meant to feel seasick. It also mentions:
“The term is correctly ‘under the weather bow’ which is a gloomy prospect; the weather bow is the side upon which all the rotten weather is blowing.”
So that’s the origin story for this idiom. Now let’s talk about its age. The earliest I could find it in print is from the newspaper Jeffersonville Daily Evening News, 1835:
“‘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.”
- A few days after Elise returned from her vacation in Florida, she started feeling under the weather.
- My friends want me to go play with them at the park, but I’m under the weather today so I have to stay inside.
Note: Know Your Phrase (aka this website) has a big list of popular sayings that you can check out. Use the menu at the top to find it, there are hundreds to explore!
On an unrelated note, I’d like briefly talk about the origin of some phrases. Sometimes, it’s just not known where they come from. So, if that happens, what you’ll see listed under the “origin” section are explanations that talk about how a phrase may have originated. Sometimes, no plausible explanations exist, but you’ll still be able to see how old the expression is based on the available quote.