As we stepped outside into the frigid air this morning — the temperature was in the low teens — I thought: “It’s as cold as a witch’s [body part].” And then I wondered, why do we use that colorful phrase?
According to Wikipedia and some other sources, a “witch’s teat” or “witch’s mark” was supposedly a mark left on witches by the devil. And since witches are presumed to be mean, soulless creatures, they would presumably be cold, or indifferent.
I don’t buy that explanation for the phrase. I doubt most people associate witches with cold (or indifference, for that matter). After all, the best known witch in modern American culture, the Wicked Witch of the West, first appeared in the Munchkin Land in a pillar of flame, and she was able to threaten the Scarecrow by hurling fireballs. These are not powers you would expect to be possessed by some icy person. It would be as if Iceman from the X-Men traded powers with the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four. That simply doesn’t happen. You’re either hot or cold, and the Wicked Witch of the West was definitely hot. (Speaking only of her temperature, of course.) Indeed, Dorothy killed her by throwing water on her, like she was dousing a fire. That wouldn’t work on a block of ice.
And, even if witches were generally cold, why refer specifically to that particular body part? When I am cold, it is the extremities, like feet, hands, and nose, that feel the coldest, not the torso. Why not give witches a break and use the phrase “cold as a witch’s nose,” instead? Given the size of the honker on the Wicked Witch of the West, it’s a safe bet that the tip of her proboscis got very cold on a bitter day.