the great "cool" debate

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 5 05:46:58 UTC 2010

To be honest, I am utterly confused as to which "modern" meaning of
"cool" is being discussed. Is it "cool customer" cool?--Well, that
goes back to at least 1860s. Is it "unflappable" cool (a lot like
"cool customer", only more so)?--That's been in the blues songs since
before WWII. Is it "popular" cool, as in "all the cool kids in
school"? Is it "cool" as "indifferent", as a variation of "cold"
(usually "cool to")? "cool" as "accepting" ("cool with")? "cool" as
"exciting" (the Cheech and Chong version, "That's cool, man!" but as
an adjective)? "cool" as in "I like it" (similar to Chong "cool", but
not as emphatic and applies to specific items, "cool jacket")?

I don't have HDAS in front of me, so I don't have the corresponding
numbers. But they all seem to be in modern usage and all different
(some completely different, some different in degrees), although many
would end up as variants under the same entry in something like the
OED. So which of these are we talking about? I've spotted maybe half
the meaning in this thread so far of the ones I am aware of.

It seems a part of the problem in TLS is that a lot of people are
talking at cross purposes and not really identifying the same item.
Given the snippets of the review--not having read either the book or
the review--I have no idea what the reviewer was complaining about as
being anachronistic. And the use George Thompson cites /in/ the review
is ambiguous, at best.


On Sun, Apr 4, 2010 at 10:11 PM, Randy Alexander
<strangeguitars at> wrote:
> 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
> cool".
> 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
> Blogs:
> Manchu studies:
> Chinese characters:
> Language in China (group blog):
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list