Cool, Cooler, Coolest

I never could quite understand the use of the term “cool.” I knew what it meant, even in its most esoteric placements. I just didn’t know why it was supposed to be the epitome of, well, of coolness.

The strange thing about cool is its persistence. Unlike other slang, such as groovy or gnarly, cool doesn’t lose popularity. And it’s uttered by people of all ages and backgrounds. Examples? I heard the word used recently on the Weather Channel as a reporter talked about a new piece of Google video equipment that fits on glasses and sends pictures of locations other than the one the viewer is facing. A teen friend of mine sprinkles gaps in conversation with the utterance, perhaps to give me assurance she’s listening to me in a desultory fashion. The Kardashians are concerned about the state. Kim K reportedly is worried she’s “losing her cool” because of her new baby (meaning her hip-ness, not her temper), and her brother assures her she is not.

Certainly other words come in and out of popularity. These may be related to age, social group, or geographic location. A boy I know uses “awesome” for his fill-in-the-blank accolades, while his cousin from Utah describes impressive items and activities as “amazing.” Brits use “brilliant” while “phat” came from black culture, according to several websites.

But nothing is as ubiquitous as “cool.” Cool’s eternal status may come from its multitude of origins. Its various meanings have been traced as far back as Beowulf in the Middle Ages (meaning unexcited, calm or dispassionate), and to diverse groups including African, British, Bostonian, Deep South, and other European roots. Cool also holds so many meanings, some diametrically opposed, that it can be inserted in any conversation, for any mood. These include excellent, acceptable, fashionable, not over-reacting, controlled, discreet, self-assured, popular,

Like any word, “cool” can become repetitive and incoherent if used too frequently. However, its surfeit undoubtedly is preferable to what is fast becoming another standard, especially for younger folk: the F-word. That means nothing at all. (For more info on “cool,” see http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-coo1.htm)

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