What is the etymology of the term ‘cool’? Many of us wanted to be cool, especially when we were at school. To cool for school, was one of my firmly held beliefs about myself, from an early age. One strand of my research indicates that ‘cool’ has its roots in the Dutch and German languages, in the form of ‘col’. The terminology seems to correlate with the concept of not too hot and not too cold (sounds like a Goldilocks’s moment to me). Robert Southey claims authorship of this tale of three bears and a young lady with golden locks, but it may have been adapted from one of those Grimm German folk tales originally. Cool dudes and a diva in this story of bears and an identity based on prominent hair.

The Search for Cool

My source mentions the English translation of the Roman philosopher Boethius from the Latin, as a ninth century example of this search for col, coul, coole and/or koole. Finding the right English spelling of this optimally temperate adjective was a journey to cool. William Shakespeare was a fan of “cool reason” and “cool patience” in his plays and poems in the fifteenth century. Temperature and the weather have been favourite metaphoric devices for how human beings and their feelings are presented in literature and, more prosaically, in conversation, ever since.

Cool Emerged Out of the Weather

Food companies offer cool treats, which are not always defined by their temperature. Indeed, they may be cool on the basis of style, like a pair of denim jeans. Cool emerged out of the weather and travelled into the lexicon of African Americans. Jazz was the epitome of cool from the 1920s onwards; and smiles with pearly whites were frequently seen upon their beautiful faces. These icons of black style and culture were the coolest of cool, with or without trumpet in hand. Cool dudes and a diva were frequently seen on the jazz scene.

Cool Cache in the 21C

Cool has morphed into sexuality, risk taking, drug taking, rebellion, and a thousand and one merchandising marketing campaigns. Cool has been dirtied by capitalism and the free enterprise system’s constant need to sell stuff. Money has been cool, wealth and being super rich has been cool. Extreme anything seems to have cool cache in the 21C. Coolness is inextricably linked with youth culture, as if the timeline of our lives is closer to cool at the beginning and forever moving further away, with the coming of the days, weeks, months and years.