English Health Idioms: Illness, the Common Cold and Flu
Oh, how lucky the residents of the Canary Islands or the Maldives are in the winter months to be able to enjoy sunny skies and warm temperatures in the mid to late 20s ˚C! For many of us, however, winter means snow, ice, cold temperatures and, unfortunately, colds and influenzas. The following list of English idioms contains expressions that all pertain to health and illness, particularly the common cold and flu.
1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
When applied to illnesses, this English proverb means that ❛it is better to take good care of yourself to prevent illness than it is to get one and try to treat it, e.g. with medication❜. Everyone knows that, when directly faced with a bad virus, your probability of preventing it is probably minimal; but, looking after yourself won ’t hurt your chances of resistance.
Example: I always tell my daughter to take vitamin C regularly. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
2. Cold hands, warm heart.
As someone who almost always has cold hands, I naturally thought that this English proverb was a nice one. It means that ❛people whose hands are usually cold have kind and loving personalities❜. Since people who are ill often have cold hands too, it makes a nice addition to this idiom list.
Example: Oh, Louise, your hands are cold. You know what they say, don’t you? Cold hands, warm heart.
3. Feed a cold, starve a fever.
This English proverb means ❛eating more will cure the common cold, while not eating will cure a fever❜. Is this old English saying true? This New York Times article claims to have the answer.
Example: Eat something, Alina. Your grandmother always said that you should feed a cold, starve a fever.
4. hoarse voice
When your ❛throat is sore and you cannot speak well due to illness❜, you have a hoarse voice. Hoarseness is a common symptom of a cold or flu, but can also be a warning sign for other conditions.
Example: I could hardly understand Luigi on the phone. He had a hoarse voice.
5. splitting headache
A splitting headache is ❛an extremely bad or severe headache❜.
Example: Could you please be quiet? I have a splitting headache.
6. to be as pale as a ghost / to be as white as snow
When ❛your skin or complexion is extremely white❜, you are either as pale as a ghost or as white as a ghost.
Example: Ricardo was as pale as a ghost when I asked him about the missing keys to my car. He said that he was ill, but I didn’t believe him.
7. to be coming down with something
When someone ❛starts a cold or flu❜, he is coming down with it. What can you do when you feel that you are coming down with a cold or flu? Try drinking a hot drink.
Example: I’m sorry. I can’t come to this month’s English Grammar Club meeting, because I fear that I am coming down with a cold.
8. to be fit as a horse / to be fit as a fiddle
The English idioms to be as fit as a horse or to be as fit as a fiddle are expressions that you can use to say that someone is ❛very healthy❜.
Example: I am not sick. In fact, I am as fit as a fiddle!
9. to be knocked out
When you are ❛extremely tired and/or unable to do anything❜, you are knocked out.
Example: I expected that I could return to work after a week, but this flu has really knocked me out.
10. to be sick as a dog
Someone who is ❛extremely ill❜ is as sick as a dog.
Example: When you called me last night, I could hardly get of out bed to answer the telephone. I was as sick as a dog!
11. to be sick in bed
When you ❛stay in bed while you are ill❜, you are sick in bed.
Example: While the others were having fun at this month’s English Grammar Club meeting, I was sick in bed.
12. to be on the road to recovery
Someone who is on the road to recovery is ❛recovering from an illness❜.
Example: Good news! I am on the road to recovery and should be back at work by next Monday.
13. to be / feel sick to one’s stomach
There are different kinds of flus, but most will agree that one of the worst is the stomach flu. When you have the stomach flu, you feel ❛nauseous❜ or sick to your stomach.
Example: My son felt sick to his stomach this morning and did not go to school.
14. to be / feel under the weather
When someone is under the weather, he is ❛not feeling well❜.
Example: What is wrong with Luigi today? He didn’t finish eating his spaghetti. Is he under the weather?
15. to be the picture of (good) health
If a person is ❛very healthy❜, he is the picture of (good) health.
Example: There is nothing wrong with Luigi. He is the picture of good health.
16. to be up for something / to not be up for something
Sometimes, when a person is ❛not well enough or rested to do something❜, he or she is not up to it.
Example: I was supposed to make a presentation on the Present Perfect Simple today, but, unfortunately, I just wasn’t up to it.
17. to call in sick / to call in ill
The Wall Street Journal recently had an article entitled The Art of Calling in Sick - Or Not. Read it for some practical tips on how ❛to inform your employer that you cannot come to work because you are ill❜.
Example: Sometimes, it is better to call in sick than it is to go work ill.
18. to catch a cold
The English idiom to catch a cold means ❛to get a cold❜.
Example: This is the third time that I have caught a cold this winter.
19. to clear one’s throat
When you clear your throat, you ❛cough lightly in an attempt to speak clearly❜.
Example: When Ambrocio reached the podium, he cleared his throat and began his speech.
20. to fall ill
The expression to fall ill is synonymous with ❛to become sick❜.
Example: Talk about bad timing! When we arrived in Puerto Rico, my daughter fell ill.
21. to have a frog in one’s throat
When your voice is ❛hoarse and/or dry and you have difficulty speaking❜, you have a frog in your throat.
Example: Fred wanted to say something, but could not. He had a frog in his throat.
22. to have / get chills
When you have chills, you ❛are shaking and feel cold❜.
Example: What symptoms does he have? He has a fever and chills.
23. to nurse someone back to health
Mothers are very good at nursing their children back to health. A person who nurses someone back to health, ❛takes care of him until he is healthy again❜.
Example: Fritz’s mother moved in with him to nurse her beloved son back to health. Fritz’s wife, on the other hand, was not happy about the new living arrangements.
24. to report in sick / to report in ill
The English idiom to report in sick can mean to things: either to ❛call your workplace and inform your employer that you cannot come to work because you are ill❜ or to ❛go to work ill❜ , which are two very different things, aren’t they?
Example: I was not happy that Gretchen reported in ill. Who is going to do her work today?
25. to run a fever / to run a temperature
The expression to run a fever means ❛to have a higher than normal body temperature❜.
Example: Jia could not think clearly on the day of her English grammar test. She was running a fever.