What Does Getting Cold Feet Mean?

Getting Cold Feet Meaning

Definition: To be too scared to do something.

When people get cold feet, they cannot take an action because they are too scared.

This phrase is used to describe nervous people before they take an action. Having cold feet is similar to feeling very anxious or timid about something.

For example, someone might get cold feet about going to an audition for a role in a musical.

Origin of Getting Cold Feet

There are multiple theories for the origin of this phrase, but none of them is certain.

define get cold feetSome suggest that people who have cold feet are unable to move forward or are metaphorically frozen in place, as if their feet are encased in ice.

Another theory suggests that it is possible for this phrase to have originated from descriptions of poor people, who may have not have enough money for shoes and therefore would have had cold feet. This lack of money may have prevented them from being able to take some actions.

Several theories suggest that novelists coined this term. German author Fritz Reuter, in Seed Time and Harvest, wrote of gamblers getting cold feet and, therefore, not playing a card game.

Many people also credit an American author, Stephen Crane, with having popularized the phrase, even though he used it after Reuter. The phrase was likely in use long before either author wrote it.

It was used in 17th-century Italy to mean short of money, but this sense has never been transferred to English.

Examples of Getting Cold Feet

idioms cold feetThe most common use of the phrase today is to describe wedding ceremonies that go wrong. If, on the day of a planned wedding, everything appears to be going well, but either the bride or the groom leaves rather than going to the ceremony, it is said that the bride or groom who ran away got cold feet.

Here is an example dialogue describing such a situation.

Stacey: How are you feeling about the wedding?

Melissa: I am starting to get nervous. This is such a big change.

Stacey: Everyone gets cold feet before marriage. They important thing to remember is that you love him.

Melissa: That’s true. I do love him. Thank you for the encouragement.

More Examples

  • “Deep down I knew it was a mistake, but I wanted to be married, I wanted kids, all that. I had cold feet the entire time,” said Ms. Huck, now 51. – New York Times
  • “Brides often tell me [when they have cold feet] because they’re nervous to tell their friends,” she says. – New York Post


The phrase getting cold feet means to be afraid to do something.