31 January 2018

How did that come around? – “Under the Weather”

I was on a birthday call with one of my friends in Singapore yesterday and she mentioned that her teenager son has been under the weather for the last couple of days. After keeping the phone down, I started wondering why do we say somebody is “under the weather”?

Of course the phrase means “being sick”. The first instinct I had was that inclement weather or season had to do with the source of sickness. But why “under”? In a very abstract sense, weather coming from mostly elements like cloud, skies, wind etc etc, in general, you would think that you are always “under” it, would you not?

After researching quite a few etymological sources, I learnt that this is actually a nautical term. (Is it not crazy how many nautical terms have made it to our day to day English?). While a couple of sources mention about the side of the ship during bad weather and one mentions about how when all the sick sailors names were written, some of them would spill over to the column under the “Weather” section in the log book, the most prevalent and accepted reason is slightly different.

During the sea-faring days, on a day of rough weather, a ship would sway from side to side and be tossed around violently. This would cause some of the passengers or sailors to get sick (seasick). The normal procedure was to then send them downstairs to floors lower than the deck since there would be far less swaying there.

This is what gave rise to the phrase “under the weather” – you are sent below the deck level when you get seasick from the ship’s violent swaying caused by rough weather.

Learnt something yesterday.

Posted January 31, 2018 by Rajib Roy in category "Word Play


  1. By Rajib Roy on

    If you like words, go to http://www.rajibroy.com and click on the “Word Play” category. I often blog about words. If you are only interested in etymology (how did words and phrases come about), just put in “How did that come around” in the search box. Hope you will like the bog site (I actually do not post on FB per se. I write on my blog site and that gets forwarded to FB).

  2. By Suzanne McBride on

    That’s interesting. Because common wisdom now is it if you are feeling seasick, the last place you want to be is in the hold where you can’t have your vision match the sensations you’re receiving

    1. By Rajib Roy on

      I am not an expert but I believe there are two types of sickness – one caused by peripheral vision (e.g. car sickness is almost entirely due to that). And the one that is caused by the swaying. I think in the former case, they say look out into the horizon.


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