The Meaning of Cold Feet: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of cold feet? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the term cold feet, including its definition, usage, word origin, and more!

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What does the term cold feet mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and Collins English Dictionary, the term cold feet is a plural noun that refers to an apprehension or doubt that is so strong that it prevents a planned course of action. Cold feet most often refers to a lack of courage or onset of uncertainty that prevents the continuation of a course of action. In modern America, this usually refers to a wedding ceremony. This term comes from an early seventeenth century Italian proverb about a wave of timidity. This loss of enthusiasm was originally used in English in a gambling context.

According to Web MD, literal cold feet can be symptoms of anything from diabetes to anemia. These could be symptoms of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), complications from smoking, caused by sores, high cholesterol, peripheral artery disease, a sign of restricted blood flow, low folate or vitamin B12, a sign of low red blood cells, an infection, side effects of medications, peripheral neuropathy, symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s Syndrome that causes problems with blood vessels, or issues with arteries in the rest of your body that affect your feet. At first glance, one may not know the root cause, so it is important to see a doctor, especially if you also have cold hands. The underlying cause may be different depending on your risk factors, such as if you have a sedentary lifestyle, heart conditions, poor circulation, or a problem with your body’s metabolism. The common causes of cold feet are varied. Look out for if you are also experiencing numbness, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, or shifts in your body’s temperature. These could be symptoms of nerve damage, heart disease, iron-deficiency anemia or other severe cases of anemia, or a sign that you are not producing enough thyroid hormone at a quick enough pace, even in healthy people. 

Many different languages also have their own idioms and translations of cold feet. It is very useful to learn about a country’s spoken language before traveling there, and is especially important to learn idioms and commonly used phrases. Some different countries use alternate metaphors to ones we may use in English, so familiarizing yourself with these can eliminate confusion. This list of translations of the term cold feet is provided by Word Sense. A similar expression may be used by English-speakers, but these may not be a direct translation from the English translation. Linguists study the different terms that people around the word use, from German-speakers to Hebrew-speakers and more. 

  •  Dutch: watervrees hebben‎, plankenkoorts hebben‎
  •  German: kalte Füße bekommen‎
  •  Hungarian: inába száll a bátorsága‎
  •  Hebrew: לקבל רגלים קרות‎
  •  Finnish: jänistää‎
  •  Norwegian: få kalde føtter‎
  •  Portuguese: amarelar‎
  •  Mandarin: 臨陣退縮‎

What is the origin of the term cold feet?

According to Etymonline and Your Dictionary, the term has been used since 1983 in American English in the figurative sense of fear or doubt that reverses an intention to do something. This comes from the Italian original “avegh minga frecc i pee” which is a Lombard proverb meaning to have no money. While this term can also date back to German idioms from the 1600s, its current usage has been popularized by author and poet Stephen Crane, who first used it in print in his novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. It was used in conversational English before this, and heard during the war. Boys who were hesitant about fighting in the war were called the derogatory term cold-feeters, and now it is most commonly used for brides and grooms that are hesitant to get married. Previously, a professor of Italian named Kenneth McKenzie attributed the phrase to the play Volpone produced by Ben Jonson in 1605. It was also present in “Seed Time and Harvest” by Fritz Reuter from 1862, a popular German Novel.

What are synonyms and antonyms of cold feet?

There are many different terms that a person can use in place of the term cold feet. These are called synonyms, which are useful if you are trying to expand your vocabulary or avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the term cold feet is provided by Thesaurus.

  •  misgiving
  •  foreboding
  •  yellow streak
  •  reservations
  •  fear
  •  backing out
  •  mistrust
  •  presage
  •  white feather
  •  alarm
  •  apprehension
  •  concern
  •  reservation
  •  doubt
  •  trepidation
  •  suspicion
  •  faint heart
  •  dread
  •  second thoughts
  •  chicken heart
  •  weak knees
  •  worry
  •  fear of carrying out an activity
  •  disquiet
  •  anxiety
  •  apprehensiveness
  •  timidity
  •  presentiment
  •  uneasiness
  •  premonition

There are also numerous different words and phrases that mean the opposite of the term cold feet. These opposite words are called antonyms, and are another great way to expand your vocabulary. This list of antonyms of cold feet is also provided by Thesaurus.

  •  impudence
  •  daring
  •  spunk
  •  self-reliance
  •  assurance
  •  mettle
  •  resolution
  •  fortitude
  •  hardihood
  •  tenacity
  •  brashness
  •  assurance
  •  sureness
  •  dash
  •  intrepidity
  •  pluck
  •  élan
  •  firmness
  •  presumption
  •  fearlessness
  •  nerve
  •  determination
  •  certainty
  •  spirit
  •  confidence
  •  cool
  •  grit
  •  reliance
  •  courage
  •  aplomb
  •  resoluteness
  •  backbone
  •  self-possession
  •  poise
  •  heart
  •  elan
  •  morale
  •  boldness

How can the term cold feet be used in a sentence?

The term cold feet can be used in many different sentences in the English language. Using words in a sentence is a great way to memorize their definitions. You can also try making flashcards and quizzes. Below are a couple examples of the term cold feet.

The Georgia woman who was a winning card-player got cold feet before the last round against the world champion card player, who wished the madame good luck. 

I got cold feet the morning of my wedding. While I knew we would never get the New Mexico venue at a cheaper rate, it felt like a lot of money to spend on something I wasn’t sure would last.

Overall, the term cold feet means apprehension that prevents something from happening. This usually refers to the feeling of fear the morning of a wedding from a bride or groom.


  1. Cold Feet | Etymonline
  2. The Meaning Behind the Idiom Cold Feet | Your Dictionary
  3. Synonyms of Cold Feet | Thesaurus
  4. Synonyms of Confidence | Thesaurus
  5. Cold Feet | Definition of Cold Feet | Merriam-Webster 
  6. Why Are My Feet Always Cold? 5 Causes of Chronically Cold Feet | Web MD