Tuesday, December 11

Are You Hot or Cold? (Hung Ho's Question)

Temperature words talk about heat or coldness. The most commonly used ones are:

  1. Hot

  2. Cold

  3. Cool

  4. Warm

To understand what these words really mean in English and how they are used in real situations, you need to know that there are at least 2 levels of meaning in English: (1) literal, and (2) figurative.

Literal Meaning

First, words have their literal meaning in English. This is the exact or direct meaning.

Literally, temperature words (hot, cold, cool, and warm) express what information you see in the thermometer.

Do you know what a thermometer is? This is a thermometer:

The term consists of two parts: (1) thermo, and (2) meter.

These two parts come from the Greek words “thermos” (hot) and “metron” (measurement).

If you want to express what you see in the thermometer, you can say something like “57 degrees Fahrenheit” or “14 degrees Celsius.”

Or to be simple, you can just use our 4 words:

  1. Hot

  2. Cold

  3. Cool

  4. Warm

This is their arrangement according to degree:

Hot > Warm > Cool > Cold

And if you want more expressions, you can also use these:

Roasting >  Stifling > Baking  > Hot > Warm > 
Cool > Cold > Chilly > Frosty > Freezing > Bitter

I hope this list, though very simple, is practical for you.

*Note: The word “hot” also means spicy at times. So you can say:

Chili pepper, habanero, and curry are hot / spicy.

all images courtesy of stock.xchng 

This is also the reason why we call spicy sauce “hot sauce.”

Figurative Meaning

Now we go to the figurative meaning, which is much more complicated.

As you probably already know, native speakers sometimes use the temperature words (hot, cold, cool, and warm) to talk about people and situations. Not only temperature.  

This is the figurative or indirect meaning of words.

Among our 4 words, “hot” has the greatest number of meanings:

  • HOT

all images courtesy of stock.xchng


(1) Very fashionable or popular

Ex. Gangnam Style is hot this year.

(2) Interesting and exciting, especially because recent

Ex. Do you want to hear the hottest gossip?

(3) Sexy

Ex. This movie has some pretty hot love scenes.   

(To learn “hot” as used for people, please see this link: Basic Compliments)

(4) Keen to have sex

Ex. When she puts her tongue in my ear, I get really hot.

(5) Skillful

Ex. He’s a hot new player.

(6) Dangerous to deal with

Ex. That girl is too hot to handle.  

(7) Angry

Ex. He was getting pretty hot about her excuses.  

(8) Stolen goods

Ex. Several hot sports cars were seized at the port.

*Many of the usages above are informal or casual. Again, this isn’t a complete list but I tried to include the most popular usages.

  • COLD


(1) Lacking feeling; not friendly or sympathetic

Ex. They were really cold towards me at the party.

  • COOL


(1) Calm and relaxed; not nervous, upset, or excited

Ex. She stayed cool during the emergency.

(2) Fashionable, interesting, attractive, admirable etc.

Ex. This stuff is really cool!

(3) Not friendly or enthusiastic

Ex. She is cool towards her fans.

(4) Used to say that you agree with something, that you understand it, or that it does not annoy you

Ex. I’m totally cool with that.

  • WARM


(1) Friendly and kind so other people feel comfortable

Ex. She has a warm and caring personality.

So are you hot, cold, cool, or warm?

Keep on learning !

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