Colds, streams and rivers

A snow-covered Siliwen Road in Bangor

It’s rather cold here at the moment with daytime temperatures not much above freezing, and nighttime dropping to -10°C (14°F) or even -20°C (-4°F) in places. As a result, some of the snow that fell last week has frozen solid and been trampled down on pavements and ungritted back streets making them decidedly icey and slippery.

I also have a cold at the moment, so I thought I’d look into how to say “I have a cold” in a number of languages. In French it’s “Je suis enrhumé” or “I am enrhumed”. Enrhumé comes from rhume (cold), which comes from the Old French reume, from the Latin rheuma, from the Greek rheuma (stream, current, a flowing), from rhein (to flow), from the Proto-Indo-European *sreu- (to flow). The Proto-Indo-European *sreu- is also the root of the Irish sruth (stream, river), the Welsh ffrwd (stream) and the Polish strumyk (brook). [source].

The Czech word for cold rýmu appears to be spring from the same source – mám rýmu is “I have a cold” by the way – as does the English word rheumatism. You can also say jsem nachlazený for “I have a cold” in Czech, which has a similar structure to the French phrase – “I am colded” or something like that.

In Welsh you don’t have a cold but rather a cold is on you: mae annwyd arna i, and the other Celtic languages use the same structure, “Is cold on/at me”: tá slaghdán orm (Irish), tha ‘n cnatan orm (Scottish Gaelic), ta feayraght/mughane aym (Manx).

In German “I have a cold” is Ich bin erkältet (“I am becolded?”), with erkältet coming from kalt (cold).

In Mandarin Chinese you say 我感冒了 (wǒ gǎnmào le) or “I catch cold [change of state particle]“.

This entry was posted in Chinese, Czech, English, Etymology, French, German, Greek, Irish, Language, Latin, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases.

9 Responses to Colds, streams and rivers

  1. Christopher Miller says:

    In Spanish, estoy resfriado/a, in Occitan soi enraumat/ada.

    Some interesting cognates from PIE *sreu- that I learned recently: the ancient river Sarasvati and the eponymous goddess, as well as the old name of its Iranian counterpart “Harahvat” now known as the Helmand. “Harahvat” was adapted into Greek as Arachosia and apparently, according to one theory, “Harahvat” migrated westward and eventually, through Common Slavic * xarwāt-, became the ethnonym “Hrvat” (Croat). From which we get “cravat”.

    There are also several river names in Europe that derive from *sreu-, including the Rhine and Rhone.

  2. michael farris says:


    Jestem przeziębiony / przeziębiona (I’m colded masc and fem forms respectively)

    There’s also

    Mam przeziębienie. (I have a cold)


    Mam katar. (I have catarrh). The condition and the country Qatar are pronounced and written the same (except for the capital letter of the latter).

  3. Technically, the Mandarin phrase above doesn’t mean “I catch cold,” but rather, “I’m (medically) afflicted by an eruption.” Hahah. It does mean that you have a cold, but the story behind the literal phrase itself is kind of interesting.

    The word “感冒” actually originates in the Qing Dynasty when, among government officials, there was something called a 感冒假 — essentially the Qing Dynasty equivalent of a sick day, but for an affliction that didn’t exist prior to that time.

    “冒” in this case means to give off or emit (smoke, or something else that erupts in a sudden manner), whereas “感” means to come down with a medical problem. At the time, the explanation for the symptoms that necessitated a 感冒假 was that government officials worked so hard making contact with foreign officials, dealing with outside prostitution and disease, etc., that symptoms of their toilsome work accumulated over time and suddenly, owing to the fact that they worked oh-so-hard, the symptoms “erupted” out of nowhere and made the official sick.

    At the time, it was a well-known (and historically well-documented) excuse to take a few days off of work for no reason. Kind of… almost exactly like sick days in modern times. Haha.

  4. Drabkikker says:

    In Dutch it’s Ik ben verkouden ‘I am “encolded”‘, where koud means ‘cold’. To catch a cold is kou vatten ‘to grasp coldness’.


  5. Compare Hindi मुझे सर्दी है [mʊʥʱeː sərd̪iː ɦɛː] and Marathi मला सर्दी आहे [məlaˑ sərd̪iˑ aˑɦeˑ], both literally meaning “To me is (a) cold”.

    Both मुझे [mʊʥʱeː] and मला [məlaˑ] are the dative forms of the respective first person singular pronouns in these languages. This construction is often used to say I have xyz illness.

    सर्दी [sərd̪iˑ] is borrowed from Persian/Farsi سردی [særdi], meaning the same.

  6. Formiko says:

    In Esperanto you would say “Mi malvarmumas” -> “I have the cold thingie” :)
    In Cherokee, what you say sounds very much like the German Achtung!
    Áktsvn’ or ᎠᎦᏨᏅ

  7. Leonardo says:

    In Portuguese it’s similar as in Spanish: estou resfriado/a

  8. Weili says:

    @Zachary Overline – Thanks very much for that explanation. It’s very interesting! :)

  9. Edvard Nichtburger says:

    The Czech word rýma does not exactly translate as cold . Rýma is rather the condition of the nose when having a cold. The English (medical) translation would be rhinitis. Merriam-Websters Online describes this as follows:
    inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose

    BTW the word is rýma. The form rýmu is the word rýma in the accusative.

    I have a cold is best translated into Czech as Jsem nachlazený which is formed in exactly the same way as the German Ich bin erkältet .

    The noun cold (in the sense of a medical condition) would translate as nachlazení