• lukewarm •
luk-warm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Tepid, moderately warm, about room temperature. 2. Decidedly unenthusiastic, with moderate interest at best.
Notes: Today's common adjective is nonetheless an oddity in that it seems to be a compound made up of a regular word preceded by a nonexistent one. We do not add luke to other adjectives, e.g. lukeglad, lukebroke, luketall, even though we would understand all these words were we to hear them. As we will see in the Word History, luke is actually redundant.
In Play: Most of us take luke to mean "moderately, slightly" as in the phrase lukewarm water. We then most often use the compound metaphorically in expressions like this: "Matilda received a lukewarm welcome when word slipped out that she was on an inspection tour." Notice that lukewarm has negative connotations when used metaphorically, so that this expression almost means "a cool or chilly reception". Don't forget the original meaning is still there: "Well, the lukewarm bowl of soup set a pretty low level of expectation, which the rest of the meal lived up to admirably."
Word History: The luke in lukewarm comes from Old English hleow "warm", so the word is actually a redundant phrase originally meaning "warm-warm". Old English hleow came from Proto-Indo-European *kole-/kele-/kle- "heat" (PIE [k] > [h] in English) which appeared in Latin as calidus "hot". This word went on to become chaud in French, caliente in Spanish, and caldo in Italian. It also went into calidaria "cooking pot", which became French chaudière "stew pot". The closest our English-speaking ancestors could come to pronouncing this word was chowder, but isn't that an excellent choice for anyone's stew pot? (Our gratitude to Miriam Brown for suggesting today's Good Word is far from lukewarm.)
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