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Why is "cool" still cool?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/12/2012 Category: Society
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,107 times Debate No: 25557
Debate Rounds (3)
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For whatever reason, many other words have slipped in and out of popular usage, but for one reason or another "cool" has managed to remain as the standard word for the idea it's trying to express.

Unless you think that "cool" isn't cool, which I would then argue that "cool" is cool.

Assuming you believe that "cool" is, and has been since it's first usage as such, cool
I challenge that we must both argue why the word "cool" is still cool.

This is to be a shorter debate than we're used to, only 3,000 characters and 3 rounds. No conclusion round, no opening, no acceptance round... just GO.

So, I ask my opponent.... why do you think "cool" is still cool?


Very intriguing question indeed. Why IS cool so popular as a ubiquitous term of approval? If someone is "cool," that probably means they are normal, friendly, fun.. they pass the social test. If something is "cool," that likewise means that it is nice, fun, enjoyable, worth while.. again, a term of approval. "Cool" can also be an affirmative (eg: "I'll meet you at 7." "Cool.")

Yet, on the surface "cool" refers to temperature. It means cold or not warm/hot. However, there is no direct link between temperature terms and approval since there are similar terms with opposite temperature indicators (eg: "Hot" is a positive adjective meaning sexy, attractive, or in more colloquial terms popular, fun, etc.. "hot new song" or "hottest bar" and so on). It may also refer to calmness, but again there is no clear link here between meanings.
Based on some etymology research (source above), this word actually has a long history of varied utility with German roots. Perhaps the early evolution of "cool" as the word it is today dates back to the 1930s, when it was used to mean "Fashionable," credited to "Black English" in the Jazz era. I also found this examination interesting, but not necessarily enlightening in terms of nailing down a single origin. In fact, it appears this word may have become what it is today because of its varied uses throughout the world.

So, as best I can tell, after years of portraying various qualities, jazz culture helped make "cool" what it is today.

That still doesn't answer why we keep using it though. Perhaps it fills a need for a word that denotes approval and positivity? Its not an altogether crazy theory, given that colloquial language tends towards ease, quickness and flow.

Debate Round No. 1


Thanks for giving a bit of the history on the word. Saved me the time!

But you bring up a good point about the term "hot". Hot, in terms of describing a person, has remained constant since its inception as well. (Albeit, describing a "hot new song" doesn't really ring anymore) But, we can certainly agree "hot or not" still is used colloquially.

Maybe that"s the source of still using the term. Weather is something that is persistent (at least in our neck of the woods, the Mid-Atlantic region). It is always changing and people always are talking about the weather. And while everyone prefers the temperature to be "cool" (spring and autumn), there are times when they want things to get "hot" and enjoy the heat of summer.

However, this may be unlikely, because cold never entered the lexicon for anything other than temperature. Outside of calling someone "cold" to mean "heartless, detached", which I wouldn't say is in popular usage nearly as much as "cool" and "hot". There are many other words to call the person who is "cold" that is used more frequently.

So why haven"t any other words taken over to describe either "cool" or "hot". Many words have been tried for cool, but nothing just seems as cool. Maybe it has to do with, avoiding the word cool, is simply- not cool. It's cool to just accept the word cool.

"given that colloquial language tends towards ease, quickness and flow." --- I do have to argue against you on this point. While "cool" is quick, easy and flowing, there are other words that are just as cool, and that's the conundrum. And, many other words have been tried. Amazing, tight, nice, wicked, hip, fun, cray, pimp, chill, rad, fresh, gnarly, fly, groovy, dank.

But maybe it's because, not only the "ease, quickness and flow", but also the versatility of the word. Combine that with the understanding between two people. My cousin used to use the word "chez uh". Don't ask why, but it became a fad between her and her friends to use that word to mean anything. It became popular with them, because when they said it, only they would know what it meant. Is it possible that "cool" has become this for everyone?

When you say, "that's cool"... or "s/he's cool", it can take on a variety of meanings. Particularly, "s/he's cool". When you ask a friend about a new person they've been seeing and they say "s/he's cool"... that might not be a good thing, it depends on how they say it. Likewise, if you ask them about a new gadget they got and they says "it's cool", it can mean it's awesome, or it sucks. Or when you offend someone and they say "it's cool", it can really mean.. its not cool, you should probably buy that person a drink. And when they say "it's cool" after that.. it might really be cool.

So, for my first round, I posit that "cool" is cool because, not only the ease and flow, but because of the versatility.


Dorie forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


For my second argument, I'll ponder on the media's power our lexicon.

Do hipsters use the word "cool"?

Maybe we use "cool" because the media has refused to give it up.

Going as far back as I know with "Cool Hand Luke" in 1967 to "Be Cool" in 2005.

Jules Winfred famously announced in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Jules: "We're gonna be like three little Fonzies here. And what's Fonzie like? Come on Yolanda what's Fonzie like?
Yolanda: Cool?
Jules: What?
Yolanda: He's cool.
Jules: Correctamundo.

Even films from secular movements making films such as 2010's "Cool It"

Or when Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden looks down on all the blood that Edward Norton's Character spilled on the ground in Fight Club (1999) and he just says -- --- "cool"

Media has repeatedly told us over the years that "cool" is still cool. Why they should choose to stay on the word, I'll leave my opponent to address.

Additionally, cool has never been (in modern times) tied to a culture. Although my opponent said the word came from "black english", she ascribed it to German roots. She also said it comes from various roots. And in various cultures it remains.

Many other words that would supplant "cool" have came from specific cultures, and although other cultures have embraced them (the cultures and the language) for a short time, the culture fades from popularity and the language goes with it.

Words like "rad" and "cray" and "smush" or whatever else may come and go have persisted in their respective cultures. But "cool" didn't come from just one culture and it doesn't remain there either. Because it came from many cultures and is not associated with any, it will continue to exist as a catch-all for the idea of a generic positive connotated word.

I would like to thank my opponent for participating in this off-the-wall debate and hope we can continue in our fun.


I agree, there are definitely countless examples of the use of the word "cool" that hail from several cultures and counter-cultures. It is truly ubiquitous. And yes, perhaps that is exactly why it persists. It has entered our language so broadly that it now seems extremely unlikely that it would fall out of favor.

It is also interesting to think about the synonyms for cool. I think it depends on the context. If an object or event is cool, it may mean interesting, fun, hip, popular, etc. If a person is cool, they may be fun, interesting, easy going, hip, etc.

Though there are some clear patterns (and we have previously established that cool is a positive descriptor), cool is actually hard to pin down to a single synonym. And, maybe thats part of why it persists-- it actually has come to mean something that no other word really does.

I think youth culture has a lot to do with it as well. "Cool" was embraced by the baby boomer generation in it's youth (think hippies and such-- 60s and 70s). Interestingly, this was a definite counter culture (compared to their parents, who were a much more "straight-laced generation [think 40s and 50s]) generation, but it is looked back upon as iconic and admittedly gave rise to many cultural trends that have persisted today (eg: music [classic rock], fashion [jeans, tie-dye, etc.], long hair, language [this is where cool fits in, along with groovy and others that come and go], drug use, and so on). Cool then persisted through the vastly different 80s and 90s youth culture-- not so much of a counter culture as a transitional (if not "lost") generation (think urban youth, 80s pop/rock, 90s grunge, the infancy of technologies we know and love today). Though this youth culture was more situational and less admired, it upheld "cool" and passed it on to what I'd consider our generation (millennials?).

Point is, I'd say younger members of society have tended to have a larger role (in the recent past at least) in making cool what it is today. Interestingly, these youth people have changed a lot over the past 50 years or so. However, cool has persisted!

What compounds the situation is that at some point, the youth from the 60s/70s become the middle-aged (and soon elderly) portion of the populous. They listen to the youngins and hear the same word(s) they loved. This serves as a point of connection between generations and strengthens the reliance on and use of "cool." Extrapolate this for another couple generations and it is easy to see how and why the word is ubiquitous and continues to bolster approval with each new generation of young people.

Though this may not answer the question at hand, I think it is an interesting examination (inspired by your movie quotes actually). I also think it points to something valid in the history of the word.

Thank you dear opponent for your input. We're that much closer to the bottom of this mystery!
Debate Round No. 3
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