health and illness idioms


Maher Bizreh from Syria writes:

Please explain to me the meaning of the idiom 'under the weather' and its origin.

What do we mean when we say:

John is under the weather today. This is why he has not come to work.

When I first heard it, I thought it had something to do with the weather in terms of being hot or cold. But a friend of mine told me that was not correct.

Roger Woodham replies:

If you are under the weather - and this is a very common expression - then you are slightly unwell.

In England, as I'm sure you know, we have lots of bad weather that people are always complaining about: lots of rain, lots of wind and lots of cloudy days when don't see the sun. This can be very depressing, so it is as if you are affected by the weather.


We have a large number of idiomatic expressions to describe various stages of health and illness. Some of the most common are listed below, starting with those which describe excellent health (+ + +) and finishing with those which describe someone who is critically ill (- - -).



as fit as a fiddle
(+ + +)
A fiddle is a violin, particularly one used in folk music. To be played well it has to be finely tuned so that the violinist can play well.

fighting fit (+ + +)
If you are fighting fit, you are at the peak of your physical and mental form, almost as if you could fight a boxing match.

  • You need to be as fit as a fiddle / fighting fit to stand any chance of winning the London marathon.

in good shape (+ +)
if you are in good shape, you are able to do a lot of physical activity without getting tired.

  • I think I'm in fairly good shape and should be able to swim 100 metres round the coast to the next bay and back.

above par (+) / below par (-)
Feeling above par or below par means that you are feeling a little bit better than normal or a little bit worse than normal.

  • How are you today? ~ Oh, a bit above par now. I've had some sleep and I feel better.

so so (-) /
off colour
feeling slightly unwell

  • How's Kevin? ~ Oh, only so so. He should really get some sleep, then he'll feel better.
  • Sally won't be at the meeting this afternoon, I'm afraid. She's gone home. ~ I'm not surprised. She was looking a bit off colour / under the weather / under par

in poor shape (--)
being quite ill

  • He's in fairly poor shape. I don't think he'll be able to walk from the car into the church without some form of assistance.

in a bad way/at death's door (---)
you are on the point of dying.

  • I hear Dr Dyer is at death's door. ~ Yes, that's true. He's in a very bad way. The doctor doesn't think he'll live.