‘Under the Weather': Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on March 24, 2023

Did someone say they are feeling 'under the weather' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

‘Under the weather’ means that a person is feeling ill. It can also sometimes be used to mean that a person is drunk, hungover, or gloomy, but these meanings aren’t as common.

What Does 'Under the Weather' Mean?

‘Under the weather’ is an idiom that means someone is ill, unwell, indisposed, or gloomy. This phrase can also be used as a euphemism for someone that is intoxicated or experiencing a hangover.

This is an idiom you can use if someone isn’t feeling well, but you wouldn’t use it to describe someone that is dealing with a chronic illness or a serious injury. It implies that a person is feeling slightly unwell rather than dealing with a serious sickness.

Though ‘under the weather’ can mean sick, drunk, or gloomy, in most cases, the meaning implied is that a person is either ill or hungover.

Where Does 'Under the Weather' Come From?

When you think of the phrase ‘under the weather’ and wonder about its origins, it’s easy to assume that there is a comparison being made between a cloudy, dreary day and the way that a person is feeling. However, there are actually a number of different theories about where this idiom comes from, but people generally agree that it has nautical origins.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, ‘under the weather’ as an idiom meaning “indisposed,” dates back to 1810. “Indisposed” means “slightly unwell.”

Theory #1

The first theory is that it stems from the notion that the side of the ship or island that faces the wind is known as the ‘weather side’ of the ship. The words ‘under the weather’ were commonly used throughout the 1800s to relate to the weather side, including phrases like:

  • Under the weather quarter
  • Under the weather bow
  • Under the weather shore

This theory posits that the use of the word ‘weather’ isn’t directly related to the weather in the sky but instead refers to the weather side of ships and islands. The connection here is that the side of a ship or island that is exposed to the wind is much rougher than the leeward– or sheltered– side.

Further contributing to this theory, the phrase ‘under the lee’ has historically been used to describe anything that is sheltered or protected.

The idea here is that ‘under the weather’ is something of an antonym to ‘under the lee,’ meaning that a person is dealing with the destabilizing and rough winds rather than safe and protected.

Theory #2

A second theory has to do with the fact that the infirmary of ships was typically below the deck of the ship. When there was a storm raging, the passengers of the ship would seek shelter below deck. They would therefore be in a safer space 'under the weather.'

‘Under the Weather’ in Historic Publications

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'under the weather' has been in use since at least 1800 and likely before. That being said, many of the earliest examples are using the phrase ‘under the weather’ in a literal rather than idiomatic sense.

In A Cyclopedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation from 1858, we find ‘under the weather-shore’ defined in its nautical meaning:

“This phrase is commonly understood to express the situation of a vessel anchored, or sailing under the weather-shore, where there is always smoother water and less danger of heavy seas than at a great distance from it.”

In an 1849 publication entitled A Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle for 1848: A Journal of Papers on Subjects Connected With Maritime Affairs, we again find the phrase used in its literal sense:

“The fore-topmast-staysail sheet parted, and split the sail very much; the yards were well secured with a preventer brace on the topsail yard, and a good jumper under the weather side of the main yard but they buckled and twisted like a tree in the forest.”

An early use of the phrase in its idiomatic sense can be found in the 1886-1887 collection of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine:

“His face was familiar to me as my own, but I looked into it with a frightened expression which prompted the inquiry, “What the devil ails you?”

A little under the weather,” I replied.

“A drink will set you all right,” he returned, and then I explained to him that I was forbidden stimulants.”

Examples of 'Under the Weather' In Sentences

How would 'under the weather' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • Mrs. Johnson said that her husband couldn’t attend because he was feeling under the weather, but everyone knew that meant he was drunk rather than ill.”
  • Of course, I want to go to the party, but I’m honestly feeling a bit under the weather. I think it would be better for me to stay home and rest.”
  • “I was worried because he really wasn’t acting like himself. Once I learned that he was under the weather, though, it all started to make sense.”
  • “Are you feeling under the weather, or are you just unhappy to be here? Which is it? The former or the latter?”
  • “She had been so excited about starting her freshman year at college and meeting her new roommate. It was very disappointing for her to learn that her roommate would be arriving a few weeks late because she had been under the weather.
  • “I’m so glad not to feel under the weather anymore. For a minute there, I thought I would never get better.”
  • “Preparing for the presentation was so nerve-wracking that I convinced myself I was sick. It turns out I wasn’t under the weather but instead just nervous.”
  • “John won’t be joining us for dinner. He’s feeling under the weather and needs to get some sleep.”
  • “I’m not going to be able to meet you at the office this afternoon– I’ve been under the weather. Let’s reschedule for next week.”
  • “Sally wanted me to apologize to you for missing your lecture. She really wanted to be here, but she’s feeling terribly under the weather.

Other Ways to Say 'Under the Weather'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'under the weather'?

Here are some options:

  • Bedridden
  • Ill
  • Out of sorts
  • Sick
  • Run down
  • Unwell
  • Ailing

Final Thoughts About 'Under the Weather'

‘Under the weather’ is a phrase that has nautical origins and means that a person is ill, indisposed, gloomy, drunk, or hungover. It is most often used to describe a person that isn’t feeling well.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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