How do the similar expressions below can be distinguished from one another?

Icy person:

If you describe a person or their behaviour as icy, you mean that they are not affectionate or friendly, and they show their dislike or anger in a quiet, controlled way.

A cold fish:

If you say that someone is a cold fish, you think that they are unfriendly and unemotional.

These two idioms, mean exactly the same to me and I need to inquire whether I am right or not. I wonder if you could explain that to me.

  • If two things mean basically the same thing, how can anyone explain that further? You have found the definitions. Wanting more is called: to want eggs in your beer. :)
    – Lambie
    May 28, 2019 at 16:02
  • 1
    @Lambie the OP asked for confirmation that they did in fact have the same meaning. And implicitly asked if there was any subtle difference in meaning. May 28, 2019 at 16:40
  • A logical question @Lambie, but sometimes there are some hidden points that a learner should know about the subtle nuances between similar concepts which dictionaries cannot explain them. The more logical point is that, why for a same case two or more consepts should exist in a specific language. So it should come as no surprise that a slight difference should be involved to differentiate identical synonymous meanings. This is why always a human mind surpasses an online application like a static dictionary. ;)
    – A-friend
    May 28, 2019 at 16:47
  • 2
    Ok, we say cold person and cold fish. And although you can say or write icy person, that is not something that would come naturally to mind. What does come naturally to mind is: cold person versus warm person. And for me, icy person or cold person and cold fish are all the same exact type of person. By the way, icy person is not "an idiom", it's just descriptive. Whereas cold fish is an idiom.
    – Lambie
    May 28, 2019 at 16:49
  • 1
    Even though I understand it, I have never heard the phrase icy person before. The link in the question doesn't even go to a definition of the phrase (only to the adjective icy that is used on its own). As far as I'm concerned, it's not an idiom at all and using it would be completely unnatural. May 28, 2019 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


The phrases "an icy person" and "a cold fish" (when used to describe a person, not an actual fish) are certainly very similar in meaning. I would say that "an icy person" is a stronger, more emphatic expression, implying actual hostility, while "a cold fish" could mean unemotional indifference. But that is a subtle distinction. I can't think of a context where one would be correct but the other would be wrong, or where substituting one for the other would change the meaning drastically.

I would add that, as a comment said "cold fish" is an idiom, but icy is simply a description, using a metaphor, which might be applied to a person, or perhaps to a person's eyes or gaze or some such.

  • I always thought that Hank was a cold fish.
  • Mark seemed icy when I entered the room
  • For me, the two are basically synonymous. I personally cannot draw out any difference. However, I would use cold fish more than icy person. :) We also say a cold person, don't we?
    – Lambie
    May 28, 2019 at 16:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .