Catch Your Death of Cold

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

So please call me, baby
Wherever you are
It's too cold to be out walking in the streets
We do crazy things when we're wounded
Everyone's a bit insane
I don't want you catching your death of cold

Out walking in the rain
Tom Waits, Please Call Me, Baby

The Common Cold is a very mild disease (in first world countries) caused by a number of different viruses that largely have nothing in common other than most of the symptoms they cause. It has been around as long as anyone can remember, but has yet to be stamped out due to the sheer number of "cold" viruses and their different properties.

The origins of the disease's name dates back to ancient times. Long before the advent of germ theory or any understanding of how the body works, it was believed that one's health was dependent on keeping the body's "humours" - blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile - in balance. The patient exposed to cold temperatures was thought to have taken in a "lump" of cold which would increase the amount of phlegm, so any disease that caused a patient to produce phlegm was said to be caused by "catching cold". In addition, people in pre-industrial times were more likely to embark on travel in the late fall because that's when the year's harvest was sold. Those that went to market would bring back whatever infections they had been exposed to. Since these infections usually spread through the community in the early winter when the temperature was coincidentally dropping, the common cold gained an additional association with cold weather.

In truth, because the cold can only be caught from other people, you're far less likely to catch it if you go wandering through the wilderness on a cold night, although prolonged exposure may well weaken your immune system against an infection already acquired. You'd do far better to worry about the much more severe consequences of real exposure, such as hypothermia and frostbite.

Despite the fact that the actual cause of the cold has been fairly common knowledge for about a hundred years now, this fact has not seemed to permeate the public consciousness very far. Mothers still caution their children to button up when going outside lest they catch cold, and any character in fiction, especially animation, will instantly begin to sneeze and cough after being chilled or, especially, frozen. These symptoms may go away once they've been warmed up again.

There's some legitimacy to this claim, to wit: having a rapid change in temperature (such as a home with a roaring fire to the freezing midwinter outdoors) can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to showing symptoms of the common cold. So, going outside while properly protected from the cold really is good advice for avoiding virus-related unpleasantness, and other cold-related unpleasantness.

The trope, although pretty much a Discredited Trope at this point, is still used faithfully in fiction and media—exposure to cold means you are going to 'catch' a cold or something worse. Once one has caught cold, if it's a Gross-Out Show, expect rivers of green mucus, horrible shots of runny noses and hankies and tissues dripping with such.

The variations of this trope are rarely combined with Redemption in the Rain, Snow Means Cold, or Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Death

Examples of Catch Your Death of Cold include:

Anime and Manga

  • Kiki's Delivery Service: Kiki ends up sick in bed after getting caught in a storm doing a delivery.
  • In Hidamari Sketch, when Yoshinoya-sensei (and a number of students) is out sick, the principal advices the other students to take care of themselves, specifically warning them not to go out with wet hair on a cold day just because "you think it looks cool" (implying that that's how Yoshinoya-sensei got sick).
  • In the Pokémon anime episode "The Ice Cave!", Team Rocket doused Ash and his friends with cold water inside the title icy cave, causing Brock to come down with symptoms similar to influenza.
  • In the first movie to Cardcaptor Sakura, Sakura falls into a (shallow) well and gets completely soaked and then sneezes.


  • In the picture book Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold, Mr. Putter catches a cold after he goes outside in the snow without his hat.
  • In the Billy Bunter stories, anyone who gets soaked with water is liable to be coughing and sneezing by the following chapter.
  • In Samantha's birthday story in the American Girl series, Samantha complains that her grandmother makes her wear long underwear from September to June to prevent consumption.
  • The titular character of Ishmael "dies" of pneumonia after being out in the cold too long.

Live Action TV

  • In F Troop, it happens to Captain Parmenter after he keeps getting water dumped on him in one episode. Unfortunately, the cure leaves him Unsuspectingly Soused.


  • From Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts": "You're gonna catch a cold/From the ice inside your soul".

Oral Tradition

  • An old British folksong "On Ilkley Moor" suggests that, from traveling on Ilkley Moor without a hat ("baht'aht"), then "thou'll catch thy de'ath of cauld!", after which there are other repercussions, leading to a somewhat cannibalistic observation!

Real Life

  • During his visit to the Western Isles of Scotland in 1773, Samuel Johnson was told that everyone on a certain island normally caught colds shortly after the quarterly ferry boat arrived. He thought the story unlikely, since the contemporary understanding was that the common cold was caused by exposure to cold, but nevertheless reported the conversation faithfully in his book about the trip. The story was eventually referenced as evidence to support the germ theory of disease.

Tabletop RPG

  • The Earthdawn supplement Earthdawn Survival Guide had a game mechanic for catching a cold after being caught in the rain.

Video Games

  • In Harvest Moon: Animal Parade, if you work too hard in the rain, you'll catch a cold. The cold makes it so it takes more stamina to do work, unless you cure it. You also lose stamina faster just by working in the rain itself, but that's a somewhat more reasonable assumption to make, because doing hard work while soaking wet, in high winds, seems more difficult.
  • Almost happens to Dr. Wily in Mega Man 10.
  • Phoenix himself in Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations catches a cold after falling to a river in a very cold mountain, the sudden shift in temperature caused his immune system to weaken.
    • I think the almost dying caused his immune system to weaken.
  • Snake gets a cold after being stripped of his suit in Metal Gear Solid, although it only serves as something to attract guards.
    • He gets a cold again in the sequel, after sneaking around in the pouring rain.
  • In Persona 3, the main character gets caught in the rain on the way back from school during the onset of a typhoon, and spends a few days in bed with a fever. The main character can also come down with a cold if fatigued by studying too late or spending too much time dungeon-crawling in Tartarus; because daytime is being spent in a crowded school and the fatigue weakens his immune system, this is in fact more realistic than catching cold due to the weather.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: After getting caught in "The Storm", Katara and Sokka both come down with severe colds. Aang, who is of stronger constitution (possibly due to having spent a century as a Human Popsicle), remains healthy and has to undertake the Fetch Quest to get their cure. They're an inversion because they're from a frozen climate but were not acclimated to a warmer climate.
  • On SpongeBob SquarePants the Suds are the underwater version of a cold, caught after Spongebob fell asleep in front of an open refrigerator.
  • Inversion: The Year Without a Santa Claus: Vixen, who's acclimated to the frigid temps of the North Pole gets sick when she goes to warm weather Southtown.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man: Peter goes around in un-insulated Spidey suit in the dead of snowy winter, and the next time we see Peter Parker, he's sneezing.
  • Batman the Animated Series: Fighting Mr. Freeze is enough to give Bruce a cold.
  • In one Looney Tunes short, a dog trying to find shelter from the snow trespasses into a skunk's house. The skunk runs him out and he falls into a frozen pond, catching a cold in the process... which works to his advantage, as his nose is now too stuffed up to be affected by the skunk's odious smell.
  • Space Ghost episode "The Iceman". Blip catches a cold after being exposed to prolonged cold temperatures.
  • In an episode of The Magic School Bus, when Arnold takes his helmet off on Pluto, his head freezes over. Back on Earth, he's just got a cold. Just so everyone's clear, the estimated warmest temperature on the surface of this little ball of ice is just about a skip above absolute zero.
  • In the movie Balto, Rosie is taken to the doctor, and sees her dog Jenny outside. Rosie goes to play with Jenny, and her father rushes out saying, "You'll catch your death out here!" Justified, as Rosie was already sick with diphtheria, and being outside on a cold Alaskan winter evening with no coat would have likely made her worse.
  • On the Futurama episode "Cold Warriors", Fry gets a cold as a child when he falls into freezing water while ice fishing. It happens again in the year 3010, a time where the common cold has been erradicated, and Fry's dormant strain threatens to contaminate the whole world.
  • In Winnie the Pooh, the Backson is shown to give Eeyore a cold by sprinkling water on him and blowing icy air at him.