Out at dinner with friends recently, I said something about a new cafe being nice but not ‘cool’. “Cool?” my friend asked, eyebrows heading north, “What does that even mean?” I looked down at my pint of foreign beer with logo-alligned glass and pondered. I was going to say “If you have to ask…” but it was too obvious. And besides, she had a point…

I’m going to take a punt here (without resorting to etymology.com) and guess the word ‘cool’ has it’s lexical roots in America’s 1950’s and the birth of ‘teen culture’. I’m thinking Jimmy Dean, Miles Davis, Brillcream, shark fin shoes… I can’t be too far out there, right? Whatever, it certainly took hold in the 60s and 70s and somehow, miraculously, it survives to this day with pretty-much the same meaning: cool.

OK so circular definitions are not cool but so precisely does this term fit it’s lexicographical wrapper that even the most likely synonyms are left wanting: hip? Close but not quite. Sexy? No. Trendy? No, definitely not.

There is a word in Dutch, ‘gezelligheid’, that the Dutch will tell you has no equivalent in English. “It’s a bit like ‘convivial’ or ‘cozy’” they’ll say but to my mind it is, more or less, cool. Except it’s not a word normally applied to people – more to places, situations, atmospheres…

So that’s a promising start but in English, cool is a word that has leapt across decades, generations and continents to remain an essential filler of that critical void we all aspire to fill and yet struggle to define: the absence of it’s eponym. Cool.

So we could talk of cool by example. Let’s take people to start with. The Welsh, God love them, are not cool. They are, by and large, very nice. Earthy, dignified, gracious but you wouldn’t want to own one. They’re just not cool.
Brazilians and most South Americans are inherently cool. Italians and Spaniards too. Norwegians, Danes and Swedes? Check. French? Yer-ish. Americans? Well, they did invent the term (we assume) but I wonder if they get to keep it now that it’s been out for so long and they’ve let us down in so many ways? The Germans… Well, maybe, when they’re running the economy and inventing techno rather than being awful. The Irish, yes, I think so. But the British? Not so much… And I’m leaving out Australians since I can’t be objective but Melburnians are cool in any one’s language and Queenslanders are not. That much we know…

So are we closer to a definition? No, not really. It’s just not cool…