Brain Freeze

Meaning Of Idiom ‘Brain Freeze’

1. A brain freeze, in regards to eating ice cream or drinking milkshakes or frozen beverages too fast, is a sudden intense pain in the head.

2. Being temporarily unable to recall facts one should easily know, such as the name of a close friend, or important personal facts.

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A physical brain freeze is sometimes called an ice cream headache or cold headache.

When it regards memory, a brain freeze refers to a temporary inability to recall something, not an actual loss of memory. Other terms for this are:

brain lapse
brain cramp
mental lapse
senior moment (humorous, should only be used by actual seniors!)

Examples Of Use

“Ahhhh! Brain freeze! I drank my milkshake too fast.”

“Be careful. Don’t drink your Slurpee too fast,” said dad to Billy. “You’ll get a brain freeze.”

“Can I have your phone number please?” said the bank teller? “Sure, it’s….sorry, had a brain freeze there. Couldn’t remember my own phone number!” said Ted.

“The other day I had a total brain freeze and forgot my boss’s last name for a second. So awkward!”


A brain freeze, aka ice cream headache, does not actually involve the brain and the reference to the brain freezing (from cold) is not literal. Both terms refer to what is termed scientifically cold-stimulus headache or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. There are several possible theories as to what actually occurs to cause the pain. See Culinary Lore for more in-depth scientific explanation.

In regards to memory lapse, the allusion is to the brain ‘freezing up’ and ceasing to function for a moment. This could be a reference to the brain being ‘frozen.’ However, the word freeze could also be used in the sense of seizing, such as how a machine might sieze or “freeze up,” meaning its parts have become stuck or jammed.

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