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.
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