the great "cool" debate

Randy Alexander strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 5 02:11:55 UTC 2010

On Mon, Apr 5, 2010 at 8:43 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> I'm with Ben.
> On Sun, Apr 4, 2010 at 6:34 PM, Benjamin Zimmer <
> bgzimmer at> wrote:
>> We have to take Peskin's word on this, since the only reference I can
>> find to Mollie's letter is in Peskin's own biography of Garfield. We
>> would, of course, want to know the context of Mollie's remark --
>> without any further information, I don't see why this couldn't fall
>> under OED's sense 2d ("assured and unabashed where diffidence and
>> hesitation would be expected; composedly and deliberately audacious or
>> impudent in making a proposal, demand, or assumption," from 1723). Why
>> couldn't she have been impressed by her suitor's audacity?

I don't know how far back the modern (Fonzie style) "cool" has been
unquestionably traced, but in my own personal experience, which kind
of goes back to the sixties (I was born in 66), this adjective was
often used as an interjection (as these kinds of adjectives tend to
be); the two uses seem semantically inseparable to me (one would not
exist without the other).  We have things like "Cool, man!" as an
interjection, and the adjective form is often preceded by an
intensifier: "really cool", "so cool".  If I showed my classmates in
elementary school something cool, it seems to me that they would have
been much more likely to have said "that's so cool" than "that's

Could someone please reply with a cite for the earliest known
unquestionable modern use?  I see some in the archives (often preceded
by "so"), but it's hard to tell what is the earliest.

Randy Alexander
Jilin City, China
Manchu studies:
Chinese characters:
Language in China (group blog):

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list