In the cold light of day

An interesting expression I noticed recently is in the cold light of day. It is used to indicate that you are thinking about something calmly and clearly, and you might feel foolish, sorry or ashamed for thinking or doing that something. For example “The next morning, in the cold light of day, Sam realized that his ideas, which seemed so brilliant the night before, were complete nonsense.”

I hadn’t thought about it much before, but when I came across it today it struck me as slightly odd – can light be cold?

According to, “This expression transfers the illumination of daylight to rational understanding and uses cold to emphasize the lack of passion.”

On AnswerBag it’s suggested that this phrase originates in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, published in 1894-5. A similar phrase certainly does appear in that book in the following extract, from the beginning of chapter 5:

“Oh, I don’t want any! I fear I ought not to have run away from that school! Things seem so different in the cold light of morning, don’t they? What Mr. Phillotson will say I don’t know! It was quite by his wish that I went there. He is the only man in the world for whom I have any respect or fear. I hope he’ll forgive me; but he’ll scold me dreadfully, I expect!”

Do you know of any earlier uses of this phrase?

Are there equivalents of this phrase in other languages?

One thought on “In the cold light of day

  1. This expression also appeared in something I was reading recently and, although I had heard if before, this time I stopped to think about it. I concluded that it must be an expression from a cold country 🙂 You can use the Google Ngram viewer, which shows that the earliest usage in Google Books dates from 1853. A search in Google Books reveals that this comes from Anna Maria Watt’s An art student in Munich; although the usage there is not figurative, but descriptive of a painting. The earliest usage in the sense of your post seems to be from volume 8 of the London Society in a rather funny diatribe against holding weddings in the morning.

    Those were the days.

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