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I didn't know that!

  1. Jan 12, 2010 #1
    I always thought that aphorism, "Feed a cold, starve a fever", was two separate phrases. That's interesting..
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2010 #2

    Ben Niehoff

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    Why does someone going on a grammatical tirade continue to write "have" when he means "halve"?
  4. Jan 12, 2010 #3
    I don't think he wrote that. The was the transcript of one of his lectures.
  5. Jan 12, 2010 #4
    I've never heard of anyone getting a fever as a consequence of eating a lot during a cold. Is there any authentic medical basis for his interpretation of that saying?
  6. Jan 12, 2010 #5
    As far as most old wives' tales go, I don't think most of them have evidence, do they? Well, regardless of whether it's true or not, I was just pointing out that the interpretation was different
  7. Jan 12, 2010 #6


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    That's because, while he may be good at math, he's lousy at old wives' phrases. He needed a binary condition and chose a poor one.

    He might have fared better choosing the "Spare rod, spoil the child". You could come up with a decent analogy there. Beat the child, but stop once signs of PTSD start to appear. Start again once the signs of PTSD have started to subside and the child starts to turn into a tyrant.

    Or, "have"[sic] the error by only slamming his fingers in a drawer instead of beating him with a shovel. Maybe the child won't veer all the way to suffering from PTSD. And slam his fingers in the drawer for everything he does wrong instead of waiting until the child has become a little tyrant.

    Perhaps he felt he was treading on dangerous ground as soon as he started talking about physically abusing children. :rofl:

    And math profs wandering around the halls chanting "I don't know" is why most students avoid the math department. (Well, that and the fact that math is hard.)

    What a weird lecture that must have been!
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2010
  8. Jan 12, 2010 #7


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    The language has changed to put the proverb the opposite way around.
    Starve used to mean dying (of anything - not hunger), it still does in the north of England. My gran used to say "starved wi cold" to mean she was cold.

    So feed a cold starve a fever - really means if you eat too much when you have a cold you will die of fever.
  9. Jan 12, 2010 #8
    I've certainly never heard that interpretation.

    However, one could make a good case for "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," having good basis in fact: back in the day sailors whose diet had no fruits or vegetables eventually developed scurvy.
  10. Jan 12, 2010 #9
    That's more severe than the lecturer's interpretation, clearly, but still consistent with his view of how we should understand the grammatical construction.

    I'm not adverse to re-interpreting the saying that way if someone could point to some reason it was ever supposed eating too much when you had a cold would cause you to get, or die of, a fever.
  11. Jan 12, 2010 #10
    Is it? I'd say that was exactly what he was trying to convey.
  12. Jan 12, 2010 #11
    "if you eat too much when you have a cold, you will get a fever and end up still having to starve yourself because, of course, nobody, when you have a fever, nobody feels like eating, so they don't eat anything."

    Clearly he's saying you will starve for the duration of the fever, but there is no guarantee of death as in the interpretation offered by mgb_phys:

    "...if you eat too much when you have a cold you will die of fever."
  13. Jan 12, 2010 #12
    Am I supposed to eat when I have a cold or no? Jebus i have a cold and I need to know. I for one do not want to die of a fever.
  14. Jan 12, 2010 #13
    From now on whenever someone asks me what to do about a cold I'm going to say: "If you have the step size, you have the error".
  15. Jan 12, 2010 #14


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    When I have a cold, I cut out all dairy, eat light, and drink clear liquids like teas and fruit juices. I can't take antihistamines, so anything that I can do to reduce mucus production is a plus. Green tea, hot cider with a cinnamon stick, etc are soothing and give you a little shot of antioxidants - might help, and can't hurt.

    BTW, the way I heard that phrase when I was a kid is that you should starve a cold and feed a fever. Makes sense, because when you are running a fever, your body is metabolizing its resources at a higher rate than normal, so you need to keep refueled.
  16. Jan 12, 2010 #15


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    People used to think that eating took a lot of effort.
    I'm guessing that the full, lethargic feeling after you eat - especially when your diet was more carbs than protein, seemed like a disability or closer death.
    The saying is at least C16th and starved =to die is much older, but the same thing is in C19th century. Sherlock Holmes doesn't eat when he is thinking in a difficult case because he cannot afford the energy of digestion.
  17. Jan 12, 2010 #16


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    There's no basis to it whatsoever, especially since you can still run a fever with a cold. Though, if you have a fever, you probably don't feel much like eating. Whenever I've had a fever, I've always forced myself to eat no matter how I felt, all part of staying hydrated and keeping up my energy to fight off the bug. Much to the chagrin of many, I'm still around. :wink:
  18. Jan 12, 2010 #17
    If it's completely untrue about the common cold, then it occurred to me the saying might have originated from some epidemic disease that no longer exists whose symptoms consisted of bronchial congestion with increased appetite followed by prolonged fever and decreased appetite leading to death from starvation. I just find it hard to believe a saying like that could have arisen from nowhere and caught on so well.
  19. Jan 12, 2010 #18
    Why is it so hard to believe? People think they swallow 8 spiders during their lifetime while asleep because somebody made it up and wrote it down.
  20. Jan 12, 2010 #19
    Urban legends and wise old sayings are in two separate categories. "Feed a cold, starve a fever" is in such company as "A stitch in time saves nine," "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", "Don't put all your eggs in one basket", and "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched", all of which make sense. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" means (despite BobG): "Discipline your kids or they'll become self indulgent." Why should cold/fever be an anomalous, completely irrational one?
  21. Jan 12, 2010 #20


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    Ok, here it is.

    http://soundmedicine.iu.edu/segment/246/Feed-a-Cold--Starve-a-Fever- [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  22. Jan 12, 2010 #21
    This, though, means the saying always meant what it sounds like it meant, and that the math professor who claimed everyone had it all wrong actually had his head up his Euler.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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