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Posted: Thu May 19, 2011 10:24 pm
by Audiendus

I recently came across this passage in Wilkie Collins's novel The Moonstone (1868):

"She [Rachel] has been a guest of yours at this house", I answered. "May I venture to suggest - if nothing was said about me beforehand - that I might see her here?"

"Cool!" said Mr Bruff. With that one word of comment on the reply that I had made to him, he took another turn up and down the room.

How are we to take the word "Cool"? The context is that Mr Bruff approves of the suggestion and considers it clever. Although it is possible that "cool" may be meant in its then-established sense of "calm, phlegmatic, nonchalant", its meaning here seems closer to the modern slang usage as a general, impersonal term of approval. But the modern sense did not arise until the second quarter of the 20th century, under the influence of jazz. Could a similar sense (perhaps not considered slang) have already been current in the mid-19th century?

Any opinions?

Posted: Fri May 20, 2011 2:57 am
by bnjtokyo
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary that links to the definitions of words looked up using the 1065 Online English Dictionaries linked to this site, "cool" meaning "calmly audacious" dates from 1825, or some 40 years prior to the date of the novel.

Could it be that Mr. Bruff thinks the narrator's plan/proposal is "calmly audacious"?


Posted: Fri May 20, 2011 7:45 am
by Audiendus
Could it be that Mr. Bruff thinks the narrator's plan/proposal is "calmly audacious"?
Yes, I think "cool" refers specifically to the plan/proposal, rather than to the narrator generally. Applying the word to a thing, rather than a person, seems only a short step away from the modern slang sense.

Calmly audacious – stylish – admirable – good.

Posted: Tue Aug 23, 2011 9:49 am
by Perry Lassiter
I am frequently surprised, especially in Shakespeare, at how old some expressions are. We seem to cycle and recycle usages. Hot and cool are excellent examples of words frolicking with each other, first meaning the same, then opposites. "Cool," I say, waiting for their next fluctuation.