Friday, June 14, 2013

Etymology of Cool

He leaned nonchalantly against his 1953 Ford smoking a cigarette and caring about nothing. Dean was his name. And cool was his claim. What made him so cool? Was it his clothing? Yes. But that’s not all. Was it his cigarette? Sure. But the single most important factor in the mix that made him cool...was his coolness.

I knew a cool kid in ninth grade. He showed me some things on the guitar like “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer. If I remember correctly, the video for that song featured The Fonz – another exemplar of coolness. Anyway, my guitar playing friend didn’t seem to care about much (his marijuana use probably contributed to his uncaring/non-responsive aura). His apathy was cool. He was too cool to care.

The other day I was thinking about the etymology of the term cool. Here’s what I found at the Online Etymology Dictionary site:
Cool (adj.)Old English col "not warm" (but usually not as severe as cold), also, of persons, "unperturbed, undemonstrative," from Proto-Germanic *koluz (cf. Middle Dutch coel, Dutch koel, Old High German kuoli, German kühl "cool," Old Norse kala "be cold"), from PIE root *gel- "cold, to freeze" (see cold (adj.)).  
Applied since 1728 to large sums of money to give emphasis to amount. Meaning "calmly audacious" is from 1825. Slang use for "fashionable" is 1933, originally Black English; modern use as a general term of approval is from late 1940s, probably from bop talk and originally in reference to a style of jazz; said to have been popularized in jazz circles by tenor saxophonist Lester Young.
I had suspected something to that effect. To be ‘cool’ meant to be “unperturbed" before it ever came to be a 'general term of approval'.  

By that early definition, Christianity is not cool. It never has been and never will be . Christianity is certainly not "unperturbed." Christians are disturbed by the wickedness in this world. And we cause a disturbance as we confront and reject the evils of our societies. Neither is Christianity cool in the sense of fashionable. It's always been a counter-cultural religion. It'll never really be fashionable. 

Sadly, many Christians are quite cool. We can see suffering around us and respond with apathy. We can see abortion clinics in our towns and turn a blind eye. Caring so much that you fast and pray and speak with intense earnestness is not en vogue, not even among Christians. Instead of brightly burning flames of passion for God and lost souls we often choose cool complacency. We sacrifice our souls (and the souls around us) at the altar of fashionability and coolness. 

Jesus called his followers to abandon all sorts of things – money, jobs, family, romantic relationships, everything really. But what about our cool? Do we dare to lose our cool for Jesus? Do we dare to care?