Out in the cold (snap)

by Mellissa Martinez

One day last week, I set my alarm early and headed out for a morning run. After about 10 minutes, I turned a corner and ran hard hit into an unwelcome surprise. Suddenly, I was slipping and sliding, unable to balance, precariously fumbling for traction on a sidewalk of ice. Yes, ice! The cold in Claremont had truly reached a new low. It was freezing!

Technically speaking, freezing is 32 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale and this month we have woken up to temps hovering around 30. This intensely cold and dry weather has a fitting name—cold snap. Although it sounds original, the noun ‘cold snap’ has other uses. It also names a comic book character, a brand of frozen yogurt and a concoction that promises to shorten the common cold.

The common cold may not be so easy to cure, but it does have the adjective ‘cold’ to thank for its origin. Since a runny nose and watery eyes are also felt in cold weather, it was assumed that the weather caused the virus. In the early 1400s, ‘cold’ meant ‘an indisposition caused by exposure to cold.’ By the mid 1500s, the 2 ‘colds’ diverged. We can, in fact, be cold without having a cold or have a cold in the heat of summer.

The word ‘cold’ came to English from the Germanic kalt and earlier from the Proto Indo-European root, *gel- ‘cold.’ Relatives from the same root include ‘glacial,’ ‘gelato,’ ‘cool,’ ‘jelly,’ ‘congeal’ and ‘chill.’ ‘Cold’ has many idiomatic uses in English. It can describe a lack of emotion in a person, a glance, a trail that is no longer fresh, an intense insult or an unprepared action, as in a ‘cold-call’ to an unsuspecting person or a ‘cold-read’ for an unrehearsed actor.

Another spontaneous action described by cold is the idiomatic expression ‘cold turkey.’ This comes from the notion that turkey is a delicious dish served either hot or cold, with no preparation. In the early 1900s, if someone left an addiction with no help, fuss or planning it was explained as quitting something LIKE cold turkey. In this context, turkey was a metaphor for an action that was taken on with little preparation. At the time, it was used exclusively for heroin addiction. Nowadays, to go cold turkey can refer to the abrupt, unprepared ending of any vice.

Turkey is not the only dish to be paired with ‘cold.’ The expression ‘cold shoulder’ comes from mutton.  In the early 1800s, the cold shoulder of mutton was a well-known poor man’s meal. If a passive-aggressive host deliberately set a cold mutton shoulder at the place of a guest, the message was clear—the guest was unwanted. With time, ‘mutton’ was dropped and the expression, to give someone the cold shoulder, prevailed.

Mutton and turkey are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this cool word. We serve ‘cold cuts,’ give ‘cold glances,’ have something ‘down cold’ and describe a mean action with ‘man that was COLD!’ A person can be a ‘cold fish,’ ‘cold hearted’ or have ‘cold feet.’ And if ‘cold’ isn’t frigid enough, some people like to pair it with ‘stone’ in expressions like ‘stone cold killer,’ ‘stone cold fox’ and ‘stone cold sober.’

If you are a cold weather person who loves a cozy fire and a warm cup of tea, chill out! Although Mother Nature has let up a bit, ‘cold’ is everywhere. Put on a sweater and cast a cold glance at a cold stone fox. If that doesn’t do it, cool your jets and chillax—there is likely to be another cold snap around the corner.


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