Word of the Month: Cool

David Zapatka

After reading last month’s WOTM “groovy,” my sister and reader, Debbie Zapatka, wrote, “That was cool, man! Does ‘cool’ have the same sort of history as groovy? A friend at work uses the word groovy all the time.” Sister and reader Judy Haberstroh wrote, “Interesting. The only person I know who still occasionally uses the word groovy is our brother Steve. Lol!” Debbie’s question regarding “cool” led me to this month’s WOTM, “cool.”

Cool: ˈkül Adjective 1. moderately cold: lacking in warmth 2. free from tensions or violence Verb 1. to become cool: lose heat or warmth 2. to lose ardor or passion Noun 1. a cool time, place, or situation 2. poise, composure Adverb 1. in a casual and nonchalant manner 2. informal

Origin and Etymology: Adjective – Middle English col, going back to Old English cōl, going back to West Germanic *kōlu- (whence also Middle Dutch coele “moderately cold” and, from a variant *kōlja-, Old High German kuoli), lengthened-grade derivative from the base of *kalan- “to be cold”

Verb – Middle English colen, going back to Old English cōlian, verbal derivative from Germanic *kōl (whence also Old Saxon colon “to become cool,” Old High German kuolēn)

Noun – Middle English cole, derivative of col

Adverb – derivative of cool

First Used: Adjective and Verb before the 12th century; Noun 15th century; Adverb 1968

In the 1920s, the word began creeping into our language and songs as a way to describe a “hip” person. In 1924, blues singer Anna Lee Chisholm recorded “Cool Kind Daddy Blues” signaling the arrival of the word “cool” as an unambiguous term of approval and even reverence. By the 1940s, “cool cat” clawed its way into the jazz scene, and the word has had currency ever since.

The ’50s and ’60s saw the use of the word “cool” wildly expand in popularity. Strangely enough in recent years, it has become fashionable to boast about not being cool. The word appears to be evolving into its next stage of evolution by the nerds whose childhood unpopularity is now a badge of honor. In this new world of highly successful nerds and geeks, they’ve been vindicated. Just look at The Big Bang Theory sitcom. It became the highest-rated sitcom of all time.

More recently we hear the term “cool beans” being thrown around. Although credit is given to this term being introduced on the sitcom Full House in the ’90s, it was horse-racing stable slang in the 1800s referring to a sprightly horse that was fed beans to make it run faster. It was sarcastically popularized in the 2007 movie Hot Rod when two characters repeated the phrase over and over for more than a minute to make a point.

Are you cool? What cool people in your life would you like to share with our readers? Please submit your experiences, any thoughts on this month’s column, or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to my email at dzapatka@wbhsi.net.