run hot and cold: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘run hot and cold’ mean?

The idiom "run hot and cold" means to constantly change one's opinion or attitude towards something, often alternating between enthusiasm and indifference.

Idiom Explorer

A Rollercoaster of Feelings

An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a figurative meaning, different from the literal meaning of the individual words. One such idiom is "run hot and cold". Here are the known facts about this idiom:

The idiom "run hot and cold" is believed to have originated in the late 1500s. Its exact source or early usage is not known with certainty.

The idiom is commonly used in American English and is likely known by a vast majority of English speakers in the United States.

According to the idiomatic expression of "run hot and cold", something can be said to have uncertain, indecisive, inconsistent, variable, fluctuating, or unpredictable nature.

The phrase "run hot and cold" is a metaphorical expression that is often used to describe someone's inconsistent behavior or fluctuating opinions.

The idiom is built upon the contrasting temperature sensations associated with hot and cold, using them to represent the differing states or attitudes of a person.

In daily conversations, "run hot and cold" can be used in various contexts, such as describing someone's attitude towards a specific idea, relationship, or task.

For instance, imagine you are discussing a friend who can never seem to make up their mind about anything. This friend might be excited and enthusiastic about something one day, only to completely lose interest the next. You might say, "He really runs hot and cold when it comes to his hobbies."

The weather has been hot and fluctuating recently.

In another example, you could use this idiom to talk about a boss who is inconsistent in their guidance or support. You might say, "My boss is always running hot and cold. One day, she's praising my work, and the next, she's criticizing everything I do."

Furthermore, "run hot and cold" can also be related to other idioms that share a similar meaning, such as "blow hot and cold" and "hot and cold".

The idiom "blow hot and cold" is used to describe someone who is inconsistent or indecisive in their opinions or actions. This idiom can be seen as an intensified version of "run hot and cold". To "blow hot and cold" means to alternate between being very enthusiastic and supportive, and then suddenly becoming disinterested or critical. It's like a person constantly changing their mind and never settling on one opinion or decision.

Let's say you have a friend who often changes their mind about going out. One day, they're all excited and eager to go to a party, and the next day, they cancel their plans without any explanation. You could say, "He blows hot and cold when it comes to socializing. You can never count on him to follow through with his plans."

Similarly, "hot and cold" is another idiom that carries a similar meaning to "run hot and cold". In this case, the idiom refers to someone who is unpredictable or inconsistent in their behavior or feelings. The "hot" represents moments of excitement, passion, or enthusiasm, while the "cold" symbolizes disinterest, indifference, or lack of commitment.

For example, you can use this idiom to describe a romantic partner who is inconsistent in their affection and attention. You might say, "He's been acting hot and cold lately. One moment, he's showering me with love and affection, and the next, he's distant and unresponsive."

Lastly, consider the idiom "grow cold". This idiom is used to describe a situation in which someone's enthusiasm, interest, or support fades away over time. It can suggest that initial excitement or commitment gives way to indifference or disinterest.

Imagine you are discussing a business deal that was initially promising but ended up falling through because the other party lost interest. You might say, "The potential investor grew cold on the project, and we were left without funding."

Based on these facts, we can observe that "run hot and cold" is a well-established idiom in American English. Its origin is uncertain, but it has been in use for several centuries. The idiom uses the sensations of hot and cold to metaphorically represent fluctuating attitudes or behaviors. It finds frequent usage in various contexts to describe someone's inconsistent or indecisive nature. The idiom offers a vivid representation of human tendencies, where emotions and opinions can oscillate between extremities. While we can explore the origins and variations of this idiom, its common usage and long-standing presence in the English language signal its enduring relevance and power to capture the complexities of human behavior.

Example usage

1. She ran hot and cold on the idea of going on a vacation. One day she was excited about it, but the next day she changed her mind and didn't want to go anymore.

2. The weather has been running hot and cold lately. One day it's sunny and warm, and the next day it's chilly and raining.

3. My boss is running hot and cold with his feedback. Sometimes he praises my work, and other times he criticizes it without any clear reason.

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