I was thinking about this word today. I’m not sure what made me think about it. Perhaps, passing a mirror, I noted how nonchalant I was.
Anyway, you might guess that this word, meaning calm or relaxed, has French origins. It’s pretty easy to tell from the sound of it, though I think the very concept of nonchalance also seems quite French to us.
Back to the word itself. The word having come to my mind, I then began to wonder about its etymology. The non part, I thought, is pretty straightforward. Then I realised that the word basically means cool in a quite literal way.
The chalant part seemed to me to be quite directly related to words referring to heat. The French word for heat is chaleur, for example. Nonchalant therefore means not hot, i.e. cool.
And the chalant part can indeed be traced back to the Latin calere (to be hot), but it’s actually not so directly related to the modern French chaleur.
Nonchalant comes from the Old French nonchalant, the present participle form of nonchaloir, meaning to be indifferent to. This comes from chaloir, meaning to have concern for, which can be traced back to calere.
It’s interesting that a word meaning to have concern for would be related to the Latin term meaning to be hot. I suppose it related to the way we might feel hot for someone we’re attracted to, and this expanded from having romantic or sexual thoughts about someone, to thinking about them in general.
And it was the French who did this, so I guess that’s not surprising!