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2 entries from May 2010

English on the March. Cool.

Stay Cool

Bleib Cool.  As a word nerd, this phrase perplexes me a bit. 

Oh, the literal meaning is easy enough to decipher.  Bleib is German for "stay", and cool is German for "cool".

When I say that cool is German for "cool", I mean it.  Duden signed the adoption papers.  Cool is now a member of the Deutsch family, and shares all its hangups like inflections and declensions and endings and stuff. 

A cool car is a cooles Auto.  A cool dude might be a cooler Kerl.  A cool thing is a coole Sache, pronounced "Coola".

(Note to self: market children's toy called Coola Hoop and make fortune.)

No, a German hears only a distant echo of English in the word cool—even with that troublesome hard-C at the beginning. 

As an English speaker, think about words like double, baggage, mention or supreme.  Do they sound self-consciously French?  Well, it's the same deal with the word cool in German.  It doesn't feel foreign.

Here's my question about German cool.  Which cool?

  1. Mildly cold? I'd better take a jacket, since the weather is a bit cool.
  2. Moderating temperature downward?  I'll set the pie on the table to cool.
  3. Unemotional, controlled, calculating? He's cool under pressure
  4. Not objectionable? If you want to meet later, that's cool with me.
  5. Reduced enthusiasm? A cooling-off period
  6. Popular? All the cool kids wear Crocs.
  7. Fashionably contemporary? He always buys the latest cool fashion.
  8. Clever? That's a cool gadget.

Usage #7 is clearly on the rise.  The website Cool Hunting certainly doesn't waste any time talking about changes of weather, does it?

Such a cool is complex.  Take a look at this timeline of cool, adapted from Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude, by Dick Pountain and David Robins. (click to embiggen)


OK, Mr. Snowman.   What cool are you?  Are you Plantation, Bebop, Brecht, Lenny Bruce, or Lodz Film School?

When other tongues adopt the word, we assume that they pick up Cool #7, or at a stretch, #6.  That's how it happened in German, Dutch and French, to name but three. 

(Interestingly, Italian hasn't adopted the word cool.  Because to be detatched and unemotional or to endorse without showing enthusiasm, is most certainly not considered  fashionable. )

OK, so our snowman is Cool #7 because he drinks the tea.  But does he gain relief from the heat?  The German word cool doesn't actually mean to moderate your temperature. 

But the German word kühl does. 

Kühl is, of course, where our English word cool comes from in the first place.  It's pronounced in almost, but not quite, the same way.   Actually, it sounds an awful lot like the English slang kewl.

But it only means Cool #1, Cool #2 and Cool #3. 

That's what makes this little ad so interesting.  If the teamakers just wanted to sound Cool #7, they might do the whole thing in English, i.e. Stay Cool

That would make more sense to English speakers, because the word "cool" would take on a double meaning.

But then, Germans would miss the other half of the double meaning, because they would read it only as "stay fashionable".  

By putting the German verb bleiben in front, the language switches to German, and the phrase becomes a pun on the word kühl

In English, a double meaning.  In German, a pun.  It may seem trivial to you, but to us Sprachnerds, it's pretty Cool #8.