Sunday, July 09, 2006


We all say it, but exactly when did this four-letter word gain a strong foothold in American slang? The four-letter word I'm talking about, of course, is "cool."

It might seem like an absurd question at first, but think about it. If you type "cool" into, these are the top five definitions that pop up:
  1. Neither warm nor very cold; moderately cold: fresh, cool water; a cool autumn evening.
  2. Giving or suggesting relief from heat: a cool breeze; a cool blouse.
  3. Marked by calm self-control: a cool negotiator.
  4. Marked by indifference, disdain, or dislike; unfriendly or unresponsive: a cool greeting; was cool to the idea of higher taxes.
  5. Of, relating to, or characteristic of colors, such as blue and green, that produce the impression of coolness.
But in everyday usage, don't we use the word "cool" for a whole lot more? And if this usage is slang which tends to be faddish, why has "cool" remained so hip? (And whatever happened to "hip" by the way? I guess that'll make for a blog another day...)

An article references the 1997 book "America In So Many Words," which traces the modern slang usage of "cool" all the way back to 1947 when the Charlie Parker Quartet recorded “Cool Blues.”

A year later, Life magazine titled an article “Bebop: New Jazz School Is Led by Trumpeter Who Is Hot, Cool and Gone.” And in 1948, The New Yorker said “the bebop people have a language of their own. ... Their expressions of approval include ‘cool.”’

Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, says the word should have faded away at the end of the ’50s. Instead, it was adopted and redefined by hippies, followed by surfers, rappers and techno-geeks. “Click here for cool stuff,” Web sites say.

And "cool" doesn't seem to be losing steam, either. It's still the bee's knees, and if anything, the word is as hot as ever.



Westy said...

Cool entry, Greg.

Greg said...

Thanks, Westy. I was just trying to stay on topic: "Westy's Daily Wit: Daily ramblings on today's news, politics, religion, science, and what's cool."