the great "cool" debate

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 5 06:01:57 UTC 2010

I wanted to make a slight correction. "Cool customer", "mettle to the
back bone" goes back to the Waverley Novels (1824), more specifically,
St. Ronan's Well (1823, as OED cites it). I would not be surprised if
it was a Scott coinage.


On Mon, Apr 5, 2010 at 1:46 AM, victor steinbok <aardvark66 at> wrote:
> 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.
> VS-)
> 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):
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