Last Updated 06 Jul 2020

Cool (Buzzword Research Paper)

Category Slang
Essay type Research
Words 1040 (4 pages)
Views 346

What exactly is cool? While some slang words die the day after they are conceived, or can only be applied to a specific culture and geographical setting, cool is an ever expanding word that knows no bounds. You can find it describing the temperature of the water that comes from the right side of the faucet, or explaining why a product is something that everyone should own. It can describe the genre of music being listened to or a glance into someone’s personality. Not only has it been used in a multitude of phrases across the nation, it is also one of the few slang words to have theories formed in an effort to understand it.

Although, understanding the word goes beyond just knowing what it means and how it’s used, an understanding of the words origin also plays a key role. Cool has had a variety of meanings throughout time, although figuring out which was the first to be used in a slang sense varies on the sources looked at. Some say that the term’s first use is dated back to the origins of Beowulf, being used infrequently in the play by minor characters to describe the emotions of others as calm, dispassionate, or unexcited (Quinion).

While this idea predates all of the other possibilities, the strongest and most prevalent speculation is that its birth was in the 1940s with the jazz age alongside the genre of cool jazz, in which, “Jazz aficionados used the term to distinguish this style from the hot jazz…”(Quinion). Those who follow the idea that the term was first coined in Beowulf will agree with the popularity and increase of use during the 1940s, but will also say that the term had changed several times before, and is a cumulative result of those changes.

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While those supporting the belief that cool was born during the jazz age will reject the claims, state that the term was only initially used to represent the melodies of cool jazz, and didn’t become a “heavier” slang term until the mid-1940s and into the 1950s (MacAdams). Regardless of the debate over its first use, the different meanings cool undertook were across the board. Time-traveling back to the 1840s and calling someone cool could have put a smile on their face, or let them know that they needed to check their attitude.

In this era it was attached to definitions such as assured, audacious, impudent, and could be found in phrases such as “Cool as a cucumber” or “A cool fish”. (Martin). Fast-forward ninety years – only a decade before the cool jazz explosion – and the word now takes a purely negative meaning thanks to its dictionary definition. According to Merriam-Webster, one of the many definitions of cool is, “Marked by steady dispassionate calmness and self-control”(Merriam-Webster).

Since being dispassionate and on top of things in the ‘30s may have implied that someone was withdrawn or depressed, referring to someone as being cool was typically an insult (Gioia). It was due to this that phrases such as “A cool reception” and “A cool personality” were born. Ten years later came the birth of cool jazz, and the primary argument for the birth cool as a slang term. Only a few years beyond the jazz age in the 1950s, two new meanings for cool were born. The first held the meaning of controlled or discreet, and gave rise to phrases such as, “Stay cool”(Quinion).

What is confusing however is that the second usage meant one of the following: restrained, relaxed, detached, stylish, excellent, or just about any other positive meaning, and was still used in the saying “Stay cool”(Quinion). Later on in the 1960s, the cool that meant relaxed or excellent, moved into common teen slang where it has since stayed – unaltered – for the past fifty years. Interestingly, while the word’s meanings are straight forward, its explanations for changing are not. Cool entered the English language as more than just a textbook explanation for temperature before the popularization of etymology.

While most other slang words have also, their length of popularity was not as long, expansive, or as broad of a term, and because of this it makes determining the exact reason of change beyond difficult. Reasons for the changes between positive and negative connotations pre-1930s are almost nonexistent; however there is one major leading idea as to why the switch took place from the ‘30s to the ‘50s. The idea is that Black American English took the term, reversed its meaning to be positive, became popular within the black community, and was then released back into mainstream language.

The only evidence to support this is that it would not have been the first occurrence, “If this is true, it wouldn’t be the first example of a type of slang construction common in modern American Black English — for example bad or wicked” (Gioia). Cool goes beyond being just another slang term; it also has its own theories based on its modern day interpretation. There are two major theories, the first being cool as a marketing device. According to PBS, this theory states that cool is a manufactured and empty idea that can be exploited by leaders of companies.

These leaders control a cycle of “cooling” and “uncooling” products to create a false sense of need in the buyers mind in an effort to control the market. The second theory is cool as an elusive essence. According to Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for the Newyorker, cool is real, but an unknowable property. Cool is something that exists, but can never be obtained. This theory is defined by three major points: discovering what is cool causes cool to move on, cool can’t be made, only observed, and cool can only be seen by those who are already cool (Gladwell).

The fact that cool is one of the longest lasting slang words in history promotes a lot of thought on its future uses and possibilities for change. Surprisingly, cool has avoided being sucked into professional use (as in keeping its slang meaning, but now as an acceptable reasoning for professions) and remained solely a slang term primarily used by young adults. Surviving several wars, and social evolutions, the future of cool looks ever expansive and limitless, which is cool all in itself.

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Cool (Buzzword Research Paper). (2017, Feb 12). Retrieved from

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