9 Common Terms That Come From Words for Heat

humonia/iStock via Getty Images
humonia/iStock via Getty Images

From calm to ink, here are some words we use that—surprisingly enough—can be traced back to words for heat.

1. Calm

Calm is related to Old Spanish and Portuguese calma, which meant "heat of the day." That was the time when everything stopped for a while so people and animals could find some shade; the time when everything got quiet and calm. It comes from the Latin cauma for "burning heat."

2. Day

Day comes from Old English daeg, which is related to the words for "day" in other Germanic languages (dag in Swedish Danish, Tag in German). Etymologists have traced it back to a root that also gave rise to Sanskrit dah, "to burn." It shows up with its "hot" sense in Lithuanian dagas, "hot season," and Old Prussian dagis, "summer."

3. Bath

Bath can be traced back to an Old Germanic base bajo-, meaning "to foment," and related to the Latin fovere, meaning "to warm something up." It originally had the primary meaning of submersion in hot liquid and then came to be used for a bath in liquid of any temperature.

4. Breed

Breed is related to the Old Germanic root bro-, "to heat something up," like when birds warm their eggs to help them hatch.

5. Chafe

Chafe comes from the French chauffer, "to warm." It was used in English in the sense of warming things (this is how we get chafing-dish), but also for rubbing the limbs in order to warm them up, which led to the sense of "irritation through friction."

6. Flagrant

Something that is flagrant is glaring and obvious, like … something that is on fire. It comes from the Latin flagrare, "to burn." Flagrant was indeed used to mean "fiery" for a time, but now the metaphorical meaning seems to be more popular.

7. Effervescence

Effervescence comes from the Latin exfeverscere, "to begin to boil," which is based on fervere, "to be hot." (The root also gives us fervid, fervent, and fervor). The word has lost the hot part of its sense, leaving us with just the bubbly part.

8. Ink

Ink can be traced all the way back to the Greek form that also gave us encaustic, meaning "to burn in," and referring to the process of burning wax paints onto objects to make the colors stay. Thankfully, we don't have to use fire to burn our words onto the page anymore.

9. Phlegm

For as long as it's been in English, phlegm has been associated with mucus and phlegmatic humor (from the theory of the 4 humors). The phlegmatic humor has always been thought of as the cold, clammy one, but the word phlegm relates back to the Ancient Greek phlegma, which referred to inflammation or the clamminess caused by being heated, which in turn relates back to the Ancient Greek for "burn" or "blaze."

This list first ran in 2013 and was republished in 2019.

13 Words That Changed From Negative to Positive Meanings (or Vice Versa)

grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

One of the main reasons for the existence of slang is to keep the outsiders from understanding the insiders. Making up new words is one way to achieve this, but it’s not the only one. A favorite trick for the young to play on the old is to take an established word and completely change its connotations from bad to good. In recent decades we’ve seen sick, wicked, ill, and bad recruited to the “hearty positive endorsement” side. While some would lament the decline of language suggested by such wanton disregard for word meaning, this kind of meaning switch is nothing new. Here are 13 fine, upstanding words that long ago switched from negative to positive (or vice versa).

1. Fun

Fun was first a verb meaning "to cheat or hoax." It came from fon, an old word for "fool." It still retains some of that sense in “make fun of,” but now also means "a merry good time."

2. Fond

Fond also goes back to fon, and it once meant "foolish and weak-minded." It came to then mean over-affectionate in a negative, cloying way. Now it’s positive, but at root, being fond of something is basically being a fool for it.

3. Terrific

The root of terrific is terror, and it first meant terror-inducing. It then became an exaggerated intensifier (“terrifically good!” = so good it’s terrifying) and then a positive term all on its own.

4. Tremendous

Like terrific, tremendous has its roots in fear. Something tremendous was so terrible it caused trembling or shaking. It also became an intensifier (“tremendously good!”) before it went all the way positive.

5. Awe

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, awe originally referred to “immediate and active fear.” It then became associated with religious, reverential fear, and then to a feeling of being humbled at the sublime. While awful retains the negative sense, awesome took on the positive one.

6. Grin

To grin was to bare the teeth in a threatening display of anger or pain. It then became the term for a forced, fake smile, before settling into an expression of happiness.

7. Smart

Smart was first used in Old English to describe things that cause pain. Weapons, nails, and darts were smart. Shakespeare’s Henry VI has the phrase “as smart as lizards’ stings.” It took on connotations of sharpness, quickness, intensity, and, through smart, pain-causing words or wit came to stand for quick intelligence and fashionableness.

8. Egregious

Egregious was a positive word that turned negative. It used to mean "eminent and distinguished," but because people started using it sarcastically, it came to mean "bad and offensive."

9. Sad

Sad started with the meaning of "satisfied or sated," also sometimes "steadfast" or "firm." It then went from meaning "serious," to "grave," to "sorrowful."

10. Smug

Smug first meant "crisp, tidy, and presentable." A well-dressed person was smug in this way, and it later came to mean "self-satisfied and conceited."

11. Devious

Devious comes from de via, "off the way." It once meant "distant" or "off the road." It took on the meaning of wandering—there were devious comets, devious minnows—and, because to do wrong was to stray from the right path, it eventually came to mean "scheming and deceitful."

12. Facetious

To be facetious was once to have elegant, gracious, high style, and to be jokey and witty. It came from a Latin term for playful humorousness. It is still connected with a type of humor, but with an unproductive or annoying connotation.

13. Bully

Bully used to be a term of endearment for men or women. A bully could be a good friend or a sweetheart. It then came to stand for a swaggering braggart and than a coward who picks on others.

This list was first published in 2015 and republished in 2019.

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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