– Or: The illness and meteorological comparative parallax

Yeah, I’m not exactly sure what that “Or” means in the context of being under the weather either but I really wanted to use the word “parallax” and it kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinda fits so I’m running with it.

This week’s blah(g) returns to the topic of Idioms.  Initially I wrote this one off as being way too easy; under the weather?  Not feeling well.  You’re either sick because the weather sucks and you went out jumping in muddy puddles without your raincoat or because you’re sick the weather is spiritually gloomy.

The end.

Roll Credits.


The more I started to dig into this one, the more fascinating it got and I couldn’t help but keep reading more and more theories about how this one came about.  From my eyes to my fingers to your spam folder and your eyes, here are some interesting explanations for where “under the weather” really comes from.

The common ground of being under the weather

All sources point to nautical originals of this phrase.  Way back when upon ye yonder days olde, the life of the sailor was far more common than we would expect in today’s world.  Conditions on the ships of ye olde days of yonder were also well beyond what we would consider to be sanitary today.  It was what it was.  There was also the fact that ships of ye days of yonder olde were not constructed with the same levels of stability that we are accustomed to today and waters for many of the sailors had chop level 9000.

The germ farm possibilities are greater than your average current daycare.  Except instead of worrying about hand-foot-mouth and strep outbreaks, it was more along the lines of lice, dysentery, plague, vermin, and diarrhea (yes, even that had the potential to be a death sentence).  And so forth and so on and forasmuch.  Medical knowledge was limited to poultices, leeching, and the casting of lots. Treatments were limited to that limited knowledge of limited practice (i just wanted to say limited three times) and unfortunately that meant that the reality of life aboard ship was potentially lethal.

But not always, thankfully!

The term “under the weather” comes directly from that same yonder of ye days olde era.  Every resource that I was able to dig into agrees on that point.

And really.  Having agreement and accord is pretty darn cool nowadays.  Better even than a breakfast burrito.  (side note: did you know there’s a song about breakfast burritos?  it makes sense.  if there are songs about ducks and grapes, there has to be a song about breakfast burritos.  you’re welcome)

The specifics of the origin start to diverge riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight HERE

Option A: listy mclisterson of under the weather-isms

We have established that being under the weather equates to feeling like crap.  Good.  So what happened on ships when sailors started to feel ill?  Did they go about their business anyway?  Just vomit over the side of the ship if the seasickness was too overwhelming and get back to tying ropes, climbing up to the crow’s nest, or swabbing the poop deck? Depends on the illness.  Even though medical knowledge was relatively basic, fever as a telltale sign of something Much Worse happening was pretty easy to spot.

Send ’em below decks!

All those episodes of Star Trek, did you ever wonder where the notion of a Captain’s Log came from?  …… no?  You already knew?  Well -I- sure didn’t when I was a kid.  Look at you mister/misses KNOWLEDGEABLE IN THE WAYS OF THE FORCE.

Oh yeah.  Captain’s Log. (supplemental) Ships had logs where events and incidents were jotted down.  Journaling, if you will.  In those logs would be daily events like date and time, aspects of roster, the names of anyone who had fallen ill, weather conditions, whether the waters were behaving themselves, and such.

Theory number A is that in the event of an outbreak of some form or another – widespread sniffles – there would be too many names of sailors to document in the log’s appointed space for the names to be notated.  As such, the list needed to be continued and would spill over into the weather column.  Thusly and forevermore: so many sick people under the weather column of the captain’s log.

Option 2: Parts of the ship that tell us it’s under the weather

Ok so same as above.  Sick sailors.  Fever, vomit, spew, hurl, blow chunks, Wayne and Garth, you know the drill.  Here’s where there might be a divergence.

It is said based on the contents of a book Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Bill Beavis (no relation to Mike Judge) and Michael Howorth (Author) that there is a literal section of the ship that sick sailors would get sent to while convalescing.  The “weather bow” was the portion of the ship that faced into the wind.  Also the spot where weather was at its worst as a result.

So guess what?  All those sick people were below decks and, literally, under the weather bow. Which was eventually shortened to being under the weather.


This gets coupled with the notion that belowdecks was probably a really good place to go in general if not feeling well – especially seasick – because the back and forth was less pronounced down there closer to the center.


Have you ever been in the bottom of a ship on rough seas and seasick?

I sure have.

Eight. Straight. Hours. of being seasick on a fishing trip.  So yeaaaahhhh, I dunno.

Maybe it’s different on giant trading vessels instead of small charter fishing boats in waters that are supposed to be too choppy but the captain goes out anyway because he’s all like “WE GOT THIS” and stuff.

A little of this, a little of that

So really, we’re not entirely sure which one of those things is correct.  The fact that there is an actual literary reference to the second one lends a bit of credence to it.

The bottom line (another idiom for another blog) is that it is a phrase that is used to represent feeling really sucky.  No, we’re not going to send you below decks in this day and age, neither will there be leeches applied to your skin for the removal of unclean blood or whatever it was that they did that for I don’t even know.

So the next time you’re under the weather, at the very least you’ll remember to put on a rain coat before jumping into muddy puddles in the future.  Just saying.

-= george =-



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About the Author

Straddling the line between the arts - voiceover, music composition, session performer, album mixing - and the world of durable medical equipment. Probably should have spent more time playing on the balance beam as a kid instead of obsessing over Commodore 64 games.

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