"As Cold As Cucumbers"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Leontius, Duke of Lysia, to celebrate the birthday of his daughter Hidaspes, promises to grant all of her requests as a birthday gift. She immediately asks the destruction of all the statues of Cupid in the dukedom. The stage is then left to Dorialus, Agenor, and Nisus, who predict that the women will all become so virtuous that the men will be deprived of their usual licentious pleasures. At one time, says Nisus, Cupid was slighted, and all the young maids were cold as cucumbers. By this statement he apparently means that they were so lacking in sexual desire as to be entirely continent. Sir Thomas Elyot in The Castle of Health (1541) says that the eating of cucumbers engenders "a cold and thick humor" and will "abate carnal lust." The chilling feature of cucumbers is recorded by Jonathan Swift in Polite Conversation, Dialogue II (1738): "Cucumbers are cold in the third degree." Sir Walter Scott in his Journal (1829) uses the expression in its modern form: "I rose cool as a cucumber." The expression has come to mean self-contained or unemotional, as in Thomas De Quincey's Greek Literature (1838): "Thucydides . . . is as cool as a cucumber upon every act of atrocity." Originally, however, the meaning was sexual, as Nisus's statement indicates:

I do remember it to my grief;
Young maids were as cold as cucumbers,
And much of that complexion.