What Does “Giving Someone The Cold Shoulder” Mean?

what does giving someone the cold shoulder mean

The expression “Giving Someone The Cold Shoulder” is a commonly used idiomatic expression in English. And like most idioms, it has its meaning and correct way to use. We will discuss that as we proceed.

The idiomatic expression “Giving Someone The Cold Shoulder” means deliberately ignoring someone or being unfriendly to someone. For example, when someone who spoke to you previously acts like they do not know you, they are giving you the cold shoulder by ignoring you.

Even though this idiomatic expression is frequently used and seems easy to use, you must have some basic knowledge to use this expression properly. So, read on and get the knowledge you need.

indifferent couple on couch

What Does “Giving Someone The Cold Shoulder” Mean?

Idiomatic expressions usually have a different meaning from the actual words in the phrase. You can say idiomatic expressions have literal and figurative meanings, which is the hidden meaning of the phrase.

We will talk about the meaning of the idiomatic expression “giving someone the cold shoulder.” Understanding the meaning of a word or an expression is very necessary because you must have a comprehensive understanding of the expression to use an expression correctly.

The idiomatic expression “giving someone the cold shoulder” means treating someone in an unfriendly manner either by deliberately ignoring them or showing no interest in them at all.

It also means to “shun” or “snob” someone, pretend like someone does not exist even when both of you are in the same location or environment. The expression also means to stop being friendly to someone and avoid them.

The expression “giving someone the cold shoulder” also refers to dismissing or disregarding someone, not giving any form of attention to someone. It also means showing a form of disdain to someone because the person has offended you.

It also refers to acting upset or silent to someone by ignoring them because they have done something you do not like. It also means refusing to engage with someone and intentionally excluding the person from activities you engage in.

The idiomatic expression also means stopping the usual flow of communication with someone for no valid reason. It also means to be deliberately rude to someone and refusing to acknowledge what that person is saying.

The expression can also be used when you show no interest in a person or thing especially with the aim of deliberately not giving attention to that person.

When you use the expression “giving someone the cold shoulder,” it means you are intentionally ignoring the person’s desires or avoiding them just to let them know you are upset with them.

The different meanings of the expression “giving someone the cold shoulder” should provide a detailed understanding of what the expression infers when you use it in a sentence.

What Is The Origin Of The Phrase “Giving Someone The Cold Shoulder”?

The expression “giving someone the cold shoulder” was first used in 1816. It was used by Sir Walter Scott in the “Scots Language” in The Antiquary. The expression later appeared in another writing of Sir Walter Scott’s, which is called “St. Ronan’s Well.”

A humoristic article was published in the Chester Chronicles on July 22nd, 1808, before The Antiquary was published.

In the article, the use of the phrase indicated that the phrase refers to a dish of cold shoulder mutton or veal offered to an unwanted guest. After this, the phrase became popular, and many people used it in their speeches and writings.

Writers like Charles Dickens used it in 1840 in “The Old Curiosity Shop”, and in 1839, an anonymous person used the expression in a letter addressed to the editor of a newspaper, the Bangor Daily Whig. The phrase began frequently appearing in the print media after the 1820s.

Another known origin of the expression is an old tradition of welcoming visitors. Visitors who were welcomed warmly were given a warm meal, and visitors who were not welcomed or had overstayed their welcome were given a subpar meal.

Although some claim there is no proof of this origin, guests who were not welcomed in a home were given the cold shoulder of mutton, which was considered a poor man’s meal at that time. However, when we use the idiom today, we do not refer to any connection with eating or the type of mean offered.

cold shouldered husband

How People Use The Phrase “Giving Someone The Cold Shoulder”

The phrase “giving someone the cold shoulder” is used when expressing a feeling of displeasure or dismissal to someone. It is also used to show that you ignore someone by refusing to speak to them or even pay attention to them.

Another way of using the expression is to treat someone in an unfriendly manner even if you were on good terms with them before. You decide to show disregard to someone by shunning them.

You can also use the expression “giving someone the cold shoulder” to describe a state of being upset with someone and showing your feelings by ignoring or snubbing them, pretending like they do not exist even though you are together.

It is also used to show that you are not friends with someone anymore; you act passively towards them and exclude them from everything you do. For example, you walk into a room and greet everyone except one person; this means you are giving that person the cold shoulder.

You give a person the cold shoulder to show you are upset with them, letting them know why you are upset. So, it is a form of punishment to someone, by withholding your acknowledgment towards that person.

When a person behaves in a dismissive or unfriendly manner, especially to make another person feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed, you can say they are giving the person the cold shoulder.

Ignoring a person without having an intent is not described by the phrase “giving someone the cold shoulders.” You only use the expression when the intention behind ignoring a person is to punish them for something they have done.

The expression also refers to being deliberately rude to someone by ignoring what they say or refusing to acknowledge their opinion about something.

indifferent woman glasses

Illustrative Examples Of How To Use The Idiomatic Expression

We will proceed by providing examples that clarify the idiomatic expression. The examples we will give will show how you can use the expression “giving someone the cold shoulder” correctly when writing.

  1. Jane regrets giving June the cold shoulder, now she is all alone in class and has no one talking with her.
  2. Although John admitted he was wrong by giving his wife the cold shoulder, he was still unwilling to apologize.
  3. One of the most embarrassing things to happen to Peter was when James, whom he considered his best friend, gave him the cold shoulder in front of their colleagues.
  4. A lesson passed down through generations in my family is never to give people pleading for help a cold shoulder. That is what makes us human.
  5. James wants to join the school basketball team, but he does not turn up for practices or games. The coach suggests the team should give her the cold shoulder.
  6. It is normal to experience colleagues giving the cold shoulder when they are jealous of the colleague with the promotion.
  7. Rather than quarreling with the new neighbors, the house owner decided to give them the cold shoulder every time they tried to get him angry.
  8. I have decided to give the cold shoulder to everyone, trying different ways to get on my nerves. And it is one of the best decisions I have made in a long time.
  9. Parents should ensure their children do not give visitors the cold shoulder, which is vulgar and impolite.
  10. It is very embarrassing to be given the cold shoulder when attempting to be friendly and accommodating.
  11. Responding to an unaccommodating person by giving the cold shoulder is one of the most painful experiences.
  12. Ruth gave Dan the cold shoulder when she noticed he was trying to claim he is the main reason for her success.
  13. When James was asked what he did when he met his ex-wife, his response was, I gave her the cold shoulder.
  14. The history lecturer gave Julian the cold shoulder because he was irritated by her attitude to students from other cities.
  15. Anna was angry with her brother for telling their mum all the secret things she had done, as revenge, she gave him the cold shoulder for two weeks.

You will notice that the expression “giving someone the cold shoulder” is not used word for word in the examples. The expression is written to fit perfectly into the instance you want to explain.

Final Thoughts

With a better understanding of the meaning of the idiomatic expression “giving someone the cold shoulder,” its origin, and how to use it correctly, you should have no trouble using it accurately in your writings.

Good writing is identified by all the different expressions and phrases like idioms, proverbs, other catchy and exciting expressions it contains. The more idioms you know and the better you put them to use you are likely to attract more readers as you spice up your writing. 


Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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