Last modified on 15 May 2010, at 05:58

Talk:feed a cold, starve a fever

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I grew up during the early 1960's and 70's. Back then we didn't have the internet or anything similar to find answers to questions, for the meaning and reasoning behind a phrase or "Old Wive's Tale". Often I went out and talked to that time's grand-mother's and great grand-mothers ranging from the cosmopolitan minded to the "country/common-folk". The rational I was given way back then for this "Old Wive's Tale" was consistent. The reason (or rational) for "starving a fever" is that with a fever it's more likely that vomiting may be one of the symptoms and therefore keeping food intake low and being careful of WHAT you ate was the whole point of the phrase. --Mithnar 10:30, 22 April 2010 (UTC)

More importantly, in terms of linguistic information, isn't this just SoP? What merit is there? It's not a proverb. Mglovesfun (talk) 10:34, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
I wasn't aware we were judging terms based on their merit, rather than their usage. How is this not a proverb? And how can it possibly be the sum of it's parts? Dominic·t 10:56, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
I like chocolate is largely used, but has no linguistic merit, that's what I mean. Well, I suppose it's not a proverb but you don't literally give food to a cold, so in that sense it may not be SoP. Mglovesfun (talk) 11:02, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
Right, so it is clearly idiomatic (by which, I think, it follows that it has "merit"), and seems to be an obvious proverb to me. I can't tell yet why you think it isn't. Dominic·t 11:28, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
Because it retains the literal meanings of all the word. Proverbs don't usually just have literal meanings. Nowhere near as literal as I like chocolate, but if you know the meaning of feed and starve, everything else is literal. Mglovesfun (talk) 12:05, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
A proverb is a statement of common wisdom, not a metaphor. Many are literal, like "all that glitters is not gold." Besides which, this one is figurative. Colds cannot be fed and fevers cannot be starved. They are ailments with which one can be afflicted, not tangible things. It is the person with the cold or fever that is being fed or starved. Dominic·t 12:11, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
All that glitters isn't gold doesn't refer to glittering or gold, or even all! This refers to a literal cold, literal feeding, literal starving and literal fever. There's nothing in our definitions of feed and starve that excludes this usage. If we just want common wisdom, why not don't leave your door unlocked at night? C'mon, I'm trying to find a reason why this is not just literal usage, and you're not helping all that much! Mglovesfun (talk) 12:26, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
To refine the question, what is a proverb, and why is this one? I'd compare this to love hurts. Love hurts is more literal, but perhaps more proverbial. Mglovesfun (talk) 12:43, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
I think you've proven my point with that response. :-) You seemed to be saying that "feed a cold, starve a fever" was literal because each word in the phrase could be correctly understood by its literal meaning. The same is true of "all that glitters is not gold," even though you see that one as not literal. It's literal glittering and literal gold, but, of course, the statement is really a general commentary on deceptive appearance. Similarly, while you seem to think that you can literally feed a cold and literally starve a fever (?—that's not true, in any case, but I will say it is for the sake of argument, since you seem to be getting at something else), it is really a general statement on how to cure those two ailments. Dominic·t 12:57, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
I don't think I have. Our definition for all that glitters is not gold says "Things that appear valuable or worthwhile might not actually be so, things that look nice might not be as good as they look." It doesn't mention 'all', 'glitter' or 'gold', but to be fair is does meant 'to be'. Mglovesfun (talk) 13:01, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
Now you're just being silly. The origin of the meaning is obvious. "Things that appear valuable or worthwhile" (ie., that which glitters) "might not actually be so" (i.e., is not necessarily gold). The statement itself is literally true, but we use it to imply a more general truth about the world. Though, I am still not sure what the argument about literality has to do with proverbiality. Perhaps a different tack will work. Would it help if I mentioned that this is in the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs & Sayings, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings, and so on?
I object quite strongly to that. I don't think anyone who heard it for the first time would understand it. A lot of the problem is English speakers with good levels of fluency (most native English speaking adults, I mean) have heard these so many times that it's hard to "forget" what they mean. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones is another example that's easy to understand as long as you already know what it means. I'm not being silly, I'm trying to establish what a proverb is, and why this is one. If I intended to rfd the entry, I already would have! I'll generalize a bit more
  1. Does this meet are CFI (you say yes)
  2. Does love hurts meet our CFI?
  3. don't leave your door unlocked at night?
I'm playing Devil's advocate to try and get to the bottom of this. Don't say I'm "being silly". Mglovesfun (talk) 15:33, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
I don't really feel like spending time on your thought experiments. We have already established that it is idiomatic, and it is clearly a proverb, as well. If you are confused about what a proverb is, you should ask at a community forum, not this article's talk page. Dominic·t 21:21, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
Your only argument is that it's "clearly idiomatic" - you can't tell me why! I think it's figurative. Figurative and idiomatic are not the same thing, but they don't exclude each other either. I just created come to an end which is very similar, as it's coming to a figurative end, not a literal one. But I'm not satisfied that either are idiomatic. If you can't answer my question, just say "I don't know", but stop fannying around. Be honest with me. Mglovesfun (talk) 09:01, 24 April 2010 (UTC)
I am not one to address metaphysical at all or linguistic questions except as they have a direct bearing on how we present entries to human users. Accordingly, I have recourse to our practice in including and presenting proverbs. This seems like a proverb (lemming test; structure, metaphor, offered as advice or general truth, set phrase). As proverbs are almost always set phrases (deviations from the standard being taken as creative or humorous), they are thereby automatically idiomatic, it seems to me. That is part of the rationale for making Category:English proverbs a subcategory of Category:English idioms. The idiomaticity of proverbs seems overdetermined to me, so I find it difficult to get motivated to discuss each way in which any one proverb manifests that idiomaticity. DCDuring TALK 13:04, 25 April 2010 (UTC)

The phrase is certainly not literal. You can't literally feed a cold, because a cold doesn't eat. It is not sum-of-parts, because this object of the transitive verb to feed doesn't have the capability of being its object. And to be pedantic, it is also not suggesting literally starving, which could be dangerous to an already ill patient.

It's fairly easy to guess at the meaning, but really it is meant as a mnemonic device for someone already familiar with the principles, and not a full set of clear patient-care instructions. With its constant phrasing and stereotyped metre, it certainly sounds like a proverb to me. Michael Z. 2010-05-15 05:58 z