What does the idiom "give sb the cold shoulder" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase give sb the cold shoulder, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression give sb the cold shoulder used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "give sb the cold shoulder"


The idiom ‘give someone the cold shoulder’ is used when you want to show someone that you do not want to talk to them or even be around them. It refers to deliberately ignoring someone and not being friendly or warm towards them. It often used metaphorically, to describe how someone might be treating another person without saying anything directly.


The origin of the phrase ‘give someone the cold shoulder’ is attributed to the British author Sir Walter Scott in 1816. The phrase appears in his book, The Antiquary, in which he writes “They gave him the cold shoulder at first, but he soon grew into favor.” The phrase ‘cold shoulder’ was originally used as a way to describe a literal cold shoulder or lack of welcome or hospitality which was served to a dining guest. It has since been adapted to be used metaphorically to describe a lack of welcome or hospitality in other aspects of life.


The phrase ‘give someone the cold shoulder’ is often used in casual conversation to talk about someone who is deliberately being ignored or excluded. It can be used to describe a person who is deliberately avoiding someone else, or to describe a situation where a person is not being welcomed or accepted.

Example Sentences

  • She gave me the cold shoulder when I tried to talk to her at the party.
  • My boss has been giving me the cold shoulder lately, I think she's angry with me.
  • I'm not sure why my friend gave me the cold shoulder when I asked her to hang out.
  • John got the cold shoulder from his co-workers when he returned from vacation.

The meanings of the words in the "give sb the cold shoulder" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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