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1. a feeling of being cold

2. a minor illness like a cold

3. a feeling of fear

Origin and usage

The noun, verb and adjective chill come from an Old English word of Germanic origin, ‘cele’ or ‘ciele’, which means cold or coldness. The noun is much older than the verb, being first recorded in the 9th century while the verb only started to be used at the very end of the 14th century. The adjective is comparatively even more recent, being first recorded in the mid 16th century.


As a noun, chill originally meant cold, in the sense of cold weather or frost. The modern meaning of a feeling of cold only started to be used in the 18th century. Related to this is the medical meaning of chill, a feeling of coldness in the body leading to shivering and aching which is an indication that someone is becoming ill; this meaning dates from the beginning of the 17th century. The metaphorical meaning of a feeling of fear that resembles a physical feeling of coldness dates from the 19th century. Something that makes you feel like this is said to send a chill down your spine.

While few people enjoy feeling a physical chill, one sense of the verb to chill is used approvingly, as is the related adjective chilled. To chill in this sense is to relax, while a person or occasion that is chilled is pleasantly relaxed. These uses date from the late 1970s and early 1980s.


St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold.”
(John Keats)

Related words

cold, frost, freeze

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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