It's pretty darn toasty in many places this summer, so I'm hoping this post can counteract the heat with a bit of chilling .
The word chill came from the Old English word ciele, which meant cold, coolness, frost, or to freeze. Ciele’s source was the Proto-Indo-European word gel-, which gave birth to heaps of modern English words.
Given what liquids do when they cool down, it’s not much of a stretch to see how a word meaning to freeze could be the parent of gel, gelatin & Jello. Gelatin, meaning a clear, jelly-like substance, appeared in 1713 after spending a couple of centuries in France as gélatine. Gel, an abbreviated form of gelatin showed up in English in 1899, meaning a semi-solid substance. Jelly’s parent-word also spent some time in France (as gelee) before moving across the channel to, well, jell into the word we know. And in 1900 the Genesee Pure Food Company started selling a product called Jello.
A Latin step-child of gel- also made its way into France, then to England in 1650 as glacial. And by 1744 the noun glacier was born.
And what happened to gel- on its way through German and Old English? It became both cool & cold.
Because water expands upon freezing, gel- is the parent-word for the Old German word gelb-, to swell, & because a cow swells prior to giving birth, gelb- is the parent-word of calf. So calving of a glacier = Cold of a cold? Frost of a frost? Gel of the Jello? Inquiring minds...
As much of the nation is swept up in a heat wave, I’m hoping most of you are getting the occasional chance to chill. I also hope you’ll find a minute to comment on all this chilling in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
This week’s post is in honor of my loving wife, Ellen, who introduced my temperature-insensitive self nearly 30 years ago to her unique take on words used to label cooler temperatures.
Nippy she sees as a non-threatening coolishness, one that inspires rosy cheeks & connotes fun & frivolity, yet still requires a sweater. Nippy entered the English language in 1898, & has a vague association with the idiom, “a biting chill in the air.” Nippy comes from the word nip, which came to the language in the 1300s from Germanic sources, meaning to pinch sharply or bite suddenly.
Just down the thermometer on Ellen’s scale of coolness is chilly, a level of coolness that calls for serious layering. Chilly showed up in the 1560s from the noun chill, which came from a Proto-Indo European word meaning cold, through the Old English word ciele or cele. Interestingly, for two centuries, from the 1400s through the 1600s the word chill eclipsed the word cold in English usage. Since the 1600s, cold is most English speakers’ go-to word when the temperature drops.
Next on Ellen’s scale of coolness is brisk, which connotes consistent discomfort & very little hope in sight for warming. Ellen tries to reserve brisk for truly uncomfortable situations. Brisk came to English through Scottish (bruisk) in the 1550s. The Scots got it from the French word brusque which meant lively, fierce, sharp, & tart.
In Ellen’s scale of coolness, the word cold is to be avoided at all costs, as it suggests all hope is lost. For academic purposes, I have included this ever-so-sad & hope-sucking word. Read on if you are strong. Cold comes from Germanic sources (cald, ceald, kalt, kaldr, kalds, & more) and appeared in English in the 900s. These words came from the Proto-Indo-European word gel- or gol-, which through other branches of the etymological tree gave birth to gelatin, glass & glacier.
Some cold idioms include:
Catch cold - 1200s
Cold-blooded - 1590s
Cold-hearted - 1600
Cold shoulder - 1816
Cold feet - 1893
Cold turkey - 1910
Cold war - 1945
Also of interest, the word cool once had the form coolth. For reasons unknown, though warm held onto the alternate form warmth, cool lost its alternate form coolth.
What have you to say about Ellen’s scale of coolness? Or about any of the words above?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, the OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
To receive weekly reminders of new Wordmonger posts, click on "Contact" & send me your email address.