The Heat is on

It’s that time again, as every four years we’re glued to the TV to watch the Olympics. I always loved it, especially the track and field events. But one word that I’ve always found a little strange is: heat. As in, a qualifying race for a final. Where does it come from?

It seems that the word was first recorded with this meaning in the 17th century, then being used to refer to a run to prepare a horse for a race. Or warm it up, if you will.

For a lot of the more elite athletes, it pretty much has the same meaning: to warm up, generate some heat, for the final.

I hope you’re all enjoying the Olympics: I’ll be spending most of time trying to figure out the name of the exact shade of green the diving pool has turned.


I’ve written before about how we use words and phrases associated with temperature, and specifically heat, in the English language. Today, I was struck by the word cool, and how it seems to contradict, yet also agree with, some of these words and phrases.

If we consider that we often associate heat with excessive passion and anger, coolness makes sense, describing someone who doesn’t get angry or overly excited easily; who keeps calm and doesn’t get stressed or worried.

And yet, it’s a short step from there to being cold: unfriendly, uncaring and unkind. Things get very confusing when we start talking about blood. Being hot-blooded means getting angry and excited very quickly, and in contrast, a cold-blooded individual is cruel, emotionless, pitiless. They’re at opposite ends of a spectrum, and equally undesirable because of it. One can be harmful to themselves and others by being too quick to anger. On the other hand, one can be so devoid of feeling for other people that they’re willing to do any number of harmful things to them, or fail to intervene, simply because the plight of others stirs no emotion in them. Continue reading