Cooling my heels

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Dec 18 03:47:54 UTC 2004

Picture it:  a classroom at a large state university, 1984.  The topic: "Fern Hill," by Dylan Thomas.

Me: "Well, what does 'lilting' mean literally?"

The 25 Freshmen: (Silence.)

Me: Literally. Ordinarily. What's somebody doing when they're [sic] lilting?

The 25 Freshmen: (Puzzlement. Silence.)

Me: I can't believe this. Hasn't anybody heard of a "lilting tune" or a "lilting melody."

The 25 Freshmen:  ( Puzzlement. Silence.)

Me: (Puzzlement. Silence.)

A Freshman: Isn't that like a really sad tune?

Me: A sad tune? I don't understand. Why would it be a sad tune?

A Freshman: Well, like flowers lilt when they die?

Me: (Silence.)

The 25 Freshmen:  (Silence.)

As for "cooling one's heels," fawgeddaboudit!


"Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
Subject: Re: Cooling my heels

On Dec 17, 2004, at 3:04 PM, Marsha Alley wrote:

> I said this to a customer today and he said he'd never heard it
> before. Come to think of it, I don't think I've heard anyone else say
> it since my family died off. Any feedback from all y'all? (Sorry,
> couldn't resist.)

google gives several hundred recent hits on "cooling my heels"; i
didn't try "cool my heels", "cooling his heels", etc. as far as i can
tell, it's still current.

i am reminded of an intro linguistics class that my partner jacques
taught some years ago at ohio state. he used the verb "careen", and
the class, all of them (about 30), maintained that they'd never heard
the word and had no idea what it meant. but, but,..., he protested,
here it is in a front-page story in this morning's Lantern (the OSU
student newspaper). he read the relevant paragraph, about a dreadful
road accident on campus, but the students professed to have no idea
what it meant. the rest of the household (including my daughter, then
a high-school student) was as baffled by this as jacques was.

arnold (zwicky at

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