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Feeling under the weather

Under the weather
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Are you feeling under the weather? In this post, Stephanie Lam gives you insight into how the British both under- and overstate what they feel by using idioms rather than plain language. An essential tip when dealing with British patients!

How are you this morning, Mrs Fisher?

A bit under the weather, I’m afraid.

‘Feeling under the weather,’ is a British idiom that’s usually translated as ‘feeling slightly ill’, or ‘not completely well.’ However, that’s not the whole story and to dive into it, we need to look at how we, the Brits, tend to express ourselves when – to use another idiom – the chips are down.

Reading the conversation above, you might think that Mrs Fisher may have a bit of a cold, or she’s struggling a little with something. She might tell you she has a pain in her right hand side, or that she’s having more difficulty breathing than normal. Still, you think, it isn’t troubling her too much.

That’s where you might be mistaken.

There’s something strange in the British psyche, which means we overdramatise the minor difficulties of our lives, and play down the really important things. The phrase ‘under the weather’ is a perfect example of how this translates into our everyday interactions.

A British person who is having significant health difficulties may well tell you they’re a bit under the weather. Conversely, someone who says, ‘the traffic was horrendous today!’ was probably only delayed by a few minutes.

It’s not something that’s done with full awareness. Mrs Fisher might even have an unconscious expectation that when she tells you she’s a bit under the weather, you’ll understand that she’s having significant difficulties. Then, like a detective with a suspect, you’ll wheedle out the truth.

Clearly, a great deal of time could be saved if Mrs Fisher told you in plain language how she was feeling, rather than relying on an idiom. Yet this is true language – alive and imperfectly used, and the more we understand of it, the better our communications will be.

Under the Weather
Stephanie Lam
About the author

Stephanie Lam is a writer, journalist, and English teacher. She specialises in writing fabulous words for the wellbeing and health industries.

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