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Exactly How Cold Is a Witch’s Tit?

Can it really be as chilly as the chilliest winter day?

Summer is quickly becoming a distant memory, a vague thought that there was once sunshine, love and happiness, before brownness and death came for us all. It’s time to get used to shaking your neck to signify to other cold people that you too are cold as well as rubbing your palms together frequently and saying “brr” a lot. After all, it’s about to be as cold as a witch’s tit out there.

The thing is, a witch’s tit isn’t even remotely cold. In fact, it’s hot! Human body temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Breasts are no warmer or cooler than the rest of the torso, so a normal, regular person’s tit would be about 98.6 degrees, too. That’s warm, far warmer than weather tends to be, unless you’re in Las Vegas in the summer. If you went outside and it was body temperature, you wouldn’t think, “Brr, it’s as cold as a witch’s tit,” you’d think, “It’s hot as hell out here.”

Thus, witches have hot tits. That said, there are lots of types of witches. If we’re talking the kind of old witch that used to show up on EC Comics covers, the “100-year-old crone” kind of idea, all stringy hair and warts and cackling, three vicious teeth grinning from a wrinkled mouth, she might have a slightly lower body temperature, as older bodies are less efficient when it comes to thermoregulation. We’re talking fractions of a degree, though. It would still be very hot.

What makes the tits of a witch different, then? 

To start, there were sometimes thought to be more of them than the standard two. In the 17th century — peak time for witch-hunts — extra nipples were seen as signs of being in league with the Devil. Witches were said to suckle their familiars or Ol’ Smokey himself from these extra teats (while you hear “tit” more in real life, the expression is sometimes phrased as “cold as a witch’s teat,” like in The Catcher in the Rye). 

Along those lines, if a woman was accused of witchcraft, anything other than a plain patch of skin — moles, warts, birthmarks, skin tags, scars, anything — could be deemed “the witch’s mark.” These were supposedly numb and impervious to pain, something that would be tested by the viciously unscientific method of “jabbing it with a big pin.” 

Accusations of witchcraft did tend to peak during cold weather — in 2004, economist Emily Oster found a link between drops in temperature and spikes in witch trials. She suggested bad winters and blighted crops would have left communities starving and eager to find someone to blame. A lot of the women subsequently accused of being witches also ended up cold, due to various hideous ways they were tortured. These included the ducking stool (in which the accused was plunged repeatedly into a river), and trial by water (in which, if the accused floated, she was punished for being a witch, and if she sank, she often drowned). Witch hunts were essentially a way of legally murdering women.

All of this vastly pre-dates the expression being widely used, however: Puritans weren’t in the habit of stepping outside into the winter and yelling about tits.

There are claims that a mercury thermometer was sometimes known to sailors as a “weather witch,” and the red bulb of mercury at the bottom was known as the tit. And so, when the weather was incredibly cold, the witch’s tit froze, but it doesn’t seem to be true. 

Occasionally, there are extra details — “as cold as a witch’s tit in a brass bra” shows up now and then, where the witch’s tit has been combined with elements from the expression “as cold as a brass monkey.” The claim is that a pile of cannonballs on a ship’s deck was known as a witch’s tit; they were held in a brass frame known as a brass bra, and extreme cold weather could cause the frame to contract and spill the cannonballs everywhere. But again, it’s all nonsense. For some reason, people love thinking everything starts with sailors. There are all kinds of bullshit stories about expressions being used by salty sea-dogs and entering everyday use, to the point that there is an expression specifically referring to that — CANOE, short for “the Campaign to Attribute a Nautical Origin to Everything.”

In 1918, “as cold as a witch’s kiss” shows up in print in an Illinois newspaper, used to refer to the temperature inside a cloud. The first time “as cold as a witch’s tit” is known to have been used in print was in the 1932 locked-room mystery novel Spider House by the pulp author F. Van Wyck Mason, in which one character states, “It’s cold as a witch’s tit outside.” Van Wyck Mason was a fan of metaphors and similes, using several more in the same book just to refer to the cold — he compares the weather to an Arctic gale, a gravestone, a pharaoh’s heart, human greed, a loan shark’s smile and all hell. 

It feels like he probably made it up, and it caught on. Despite making no real sense, it just sounds right, and gets across the feeling that it isn’t just cold out there, it’s dank and dark and deathly. It’s got a good rhythm to it as a phrase, ending well on that hard-T sound. It just works. Honestly, it sounds cool as shit. 

Shit, of course, isn’t initially cool at all, arriving out of the butthole at around a similar 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

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