Do we know what she’s thinking? What he thinks she’s thinking?

It’s two things that are good to do?

CIDU – these reverse or warning sayings are always confusing. “Feed a cold and starve a fever” — Is that two pieces of advice (cold and fever seen as two different conditions to be treated by opposite dietary strategies) or a single one (feed when you have a cold, and it will kill off [starve] the fever, which is this time another name for the cold)?


  1. The kid is thinking that it is obvious that her father should not beat her with a stick, therefore it follows that he should now begin to spoil her, such as with an extra big dessert, or a new bicycle.

  2. P.S. As for the other aphorism: “feed a cold” means “your body still needs energy and vitamins to help combat the virus“, whereas “starve a fever” is a little more pragmatic: “yes, you still need the fluids and the vitamins, but a fever may be a sign of a gastro-intestinal infection, so hold off on the food until it’s clear that you are not going to throw up“.

  3. I’ve also heard it interpreted as : If you feed a cold, you will wind up having to starve a fever (e.g., that feeding a cold is a bad thing to do and will just cause you more problems). I dunno; maybe somebody needs to poll a bunch of Old Wives.

    (By the way, “if King Croesus crosses the Halys River, a great empire will be destroyed.” Hope that helps, Croesy.)

  4. Thanks for that clip, Pete. I was going to assert that nobody adult is confused about what the saying means (whether or not they agree with the policy it implies); but this illustrates that assertion would be wrong. (And y’know, when you assert you make an ass out of er and ta.)

  5. I always thought “starve a cold and feed a fever” had nothing whatsoever to do with food or eating. “Starve a cold” = stay out of cool places and prevent further chill. “Feed a fever” = bundle up and stay warm to cook the bugs out of you. Always works for me.

  6. When I was a kid, the expression always confused me, because I parsed it as “You should spare the rod and you should spoil the child.” (Rather than “If you spare the rod, you will spoil the child.”) I assume Maria has the same confusion that I had, and the father knows that.

  7. The child clearly views it as two admonitions, not to beat the child (good plan) and separately to spoil the child. (Assuming the child actually understands what “spare the rod” refers to.)

  8. Ouch, that hit home. Having never seen the show, I would not have been able to find the reference without Mitch4’s rejoinder. I should add that my analysis above (@2) is not endorsed by Dr. Spock() or any medical school, it’s simply personal experience based on the colds and fevers that I’ve encountered in my own children.
    P.S. (
    ) – As a formerly over-conscious (meaning “new”) parent, I made sure to buy a copy of Dr. Spock’s classic book before the birth of my first kid. Unfortunately, I discovered that the “8th Edition” had been reworked by an insanely politically correct editor, rendering the text painfully unreadable. Every reference to “your doctor” had been expanded to “your doctor or nurse practitioner”, no matter how many times it appeared in the same page (or paragraph). I think “pediatrician” would have been a less unwieldy choice.
    Even worse, that idiot of an editor decided to use “gender neutral” pronouns for the baby and/or child in question, so that the text alternated between “he” and “she”, even within a single paragraph describing the same child or incident. It made it seem like there were suddenly two sick kids with the same problem, when there had only been one before. It’s been at least seven years since I’ve opened (or even touched) the book; I probably should toss it in the trash.

  9. P.P.S. @ Mitch4 – I would like to re-iterate my vote against the “simpler” formatting tags. The italics above (between “…Dr. Spock (” and “) As a formerly…”) were cause by WordPress running roughshod over my footnote marker. (Yes, I could use daggers (†), but that’s not as convenient as an asterisk.)

  10. Sorry, I’ll look up how to escape an asterisk so it doesn’t trigger italics. It may be just leaving a space, so the * is not adjacent to anything; but then there’s the question of how to close up that space in the output .

  11. Please see Site Comments for a Markdown experiment.
    The short version is that you can leave a space, but it is not automatically closed up, or escape the *asterisk with a backslash.

  12. Most of us seem to assume that a kid would understand “the rod” to mean whacking a child to learn ’em good. I’d take a step back from that & guess Maria has never been struck by that mellow chap. Alas, that leaves me even more confused as to what she thought it meant.

  13. Oh, fer shure, she has not been subjected to really harsh corporal punishment! Whether or not she has been simply spanked at some age we probably can’t know, without more about the time and place this is set, etc. My guess is no, but she knows what spanking is, and that “spare the rod” would mean “don’t even spank the child” in this context.

  14. For my part, I think that the reason that “feed a cold and starve a fever” has so many different interpretations is that none of them are generally sound medical advice. So therefore people will interpret them as whatever happens to work for them personally in whatever way tends to work for them personally. There is nothing you can generally say about feeding or starving fevers or colds that works for everybody, other than “if you sweat a lot, you’ll probably get dehydrated, so try to keep as much water down as you can especially if you’re losing water from sweat or from, y’know, either end”, but it may well be that you PERSONALLY do better if you eat or fast or whatever. It’s a flexible enough saying that you can find out which way you happen to work, then retroactively decide that THAT’S what it means.

  15. Kilby: If the editor changed “doctor” to “doctor or nurse practitioner” in order to be gender-neutral, the editor made it much less politically correct.

  16. Coincidentally, I saw a bit of graffiti today that’s similarly ambiguous: It’s hard to love and not be loved.

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