Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Groovy, man...

This post is a half requested one, and by that I mean it came up in conversation with a friend, and I didn't have a clue what to say. Fearing for my life, I ran away to learn all I could, but the discussion had moved on over that weekend... Anyway, what I have decided to do with this new-found pretty knowledge is to pass it on to those who have strayed onto the internet, that it may save their bacon too one day. Enjoy.

Unlike the other posts I've made, there's no proverbs here. Rather, I've taken something a little shorter, but just as interesting: one word. That's right, one word. Naturally, that's going to make this ramble a little shorter than the other, but hey, let's not run a marathon every time we go jogging. So without further ado, I shove a word in your face and tell you to love it. That word, ladies and gentlemen, is...


Yeah, that's right dude. Far out. It's so in the ether, I put some Jazz on just to help write all this up. Bear in mind that I'm only going to yack about the slang way we use "cool", and that's a little more relevant than you might have thought. Most of us have embarrassing (and hopefully distant) relatives who go on about Jazz, and how it invented modern music, etc etc. The point here is, you guessed it, it's also responsible for the word "cool" in its modern sense.

It was none other than Miles Davies, the man himself, who gave the world "Cool Jazz" in that swinging year 1949. In this sub-genre, the styles and rhythms are even more relaxed than usual, which in turn sounds relaxed, if a little of an acquired taste... Love it or hate it, it's there. An influential chap like Miles could pluck a word, change it's meaning, and make it stick.

If nothing else, we can at least see how closely linked the new and old meanings of "cool" are. They both have an secondary meaning in their use, implying that everything's just right. A "cool day" certainly doesn't have gale-force winds, bush fire, and nor is anyone stuck under a foot of snow. You can't complain about a "cool day", really. If it's "cool", it's good, regardless of which version we're looking at.

Once we've gotten over the Jazz stage, which is still in use, we get the kids on the street involved. As anyone who owns tweed clothes and leather armchairs will tell you, where there's kids, there's trouble. Sad to say, this lot do nothing to change that elitist snobbery. At some point in the 50's, the gangs of America decided to take "cool" and use it to describe a truce in a gang war. You'll note that I'm not giving it a date here, and for good reason. See, the media first used the phrase in '58, and I'd put good money on it having been used for a lot longer. It's usually a few years before these things get noticed by out-of-touch journalists. There's a nice example, the last one I have for "cool" in this sense also describes gang-fighters as "gang-bangers", but that WAS 1993...

At this point, I take a moment to look at the word "cool" as we've just looked at it, with gangs and what, and isn't it ominous? It sounds to me like letting a machine gun cool down: just because it isn't being used now doesn't mean it won't spit lead in your face later. It's volatile, and most definitely not permanent. I'm not going to push the analogy any further, you can do that if you so wish.

Which brings us bang up to date with our modern use of the word cool, which started in the 60s, and has remained as a staple of our day to day language ever since. I'm sure I don't need to explain it's meaning to your here, oh inevitably popular reader. If I do, I think you need to spend a little less time on blogs like this. We like it because it's down the middle. It's not tense, but it's not reckless. It's not strict, yet it hasn't completely let go. It's just.. cool, ya know?

I'm pretty sure that's an exhaustive account of a single word. It's not the oldest, the prettiest, the most significant, or the most life-changing, but what would we do without it? Its meaning's still in flux, as far as I can see, so who knows what it might mean fifty years from now. Whatever, man. At least we know where it came from.

Chill out for now.

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