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Is it correct to say "cold temperature"?

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Presumably the same question would apply to fast speed and high speed, loud volume and high volume, cheap prices and low prices, the probability is unlikely and the probability is high, … (more examples?) –  ShreevatsaR Feb 21 '11 at 19:27
    
"cold temperature" sounds weird, but "at colder temperatures" serves a purpose, since many temperature scales have an odd zero point, it makes it easier to understand. Using a moderating term such as "at a slightly cold temperature" also works because its specifies a low but not a precise temperature... –  Stein G. Strindhaug Feb 22 '11 at 11:45
    
Using "cold" rather than "low" is probably safer, because some people think of "minus degrees" and "plus degrees" as something different, (a "cold scale" and a "hot scale") and could be confused when told that "5 minus-degrees" is more than "6 minus-degrees"... But if you know the recipient understand physics, use "low temperature". –  Stein G. Strindhaug Feb 22 '11 at 11:52
    
Closely related: english.stackexchange.com/q/55655/14666 –  Kris Nov 26 '12 at 7:46

6 Answers 6

Cold, when used as adjective, means "of a low temperature", or "at a low temperature" (it could also be used as relative term); when it is used as noun, it means "low temperature".

You can say low temperature, or simply cold.

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The words hot and cold (also warm, freezing etc) is actually used as comparatives even when we don't think about it. If we say something is just "hot" we mean it has a higher temperature than usual, or higher temerature than our body temperature (or something else we would typically compare it to).

Hot and cold really doesn't relate directly to temperature, but rather our perception of temperature which is not absolute but rather based on temperature differences. When we touch an object we feel it as cold, warm, or hot depending on the relative temperature difference between the object and our skin, and when the difference is great enough we feel only pain (often referred to as a "burning" sensation, dry ice and red hot metal feels the same, only the surrounding tissue that don't get hurt can give a guess about the hotness/coldness of an object; but it can be fooled: try toucing an ice cube in a sauna and you'd swear it's red hot, not cold)

but when we feel cold or warm, we actually feel the difference between our body's actual temperature and the ideal temperature our internal "thermostat" want it to be. We produce heat all the time so we depend on a certain loss of heat to function, which means we want the surroundings to be colder than our core temperature, so what we feel when we think the surroundings is cold, warm or comfortable is how hard the body has to work to increase or decrease the temperature. This is very apparent when we have a rising fever; we feel cold as we get hotter because we feel the body trying to warm up, and when the feever is falling we feel hot as we get colder again.

What I mean by this long rant, is that using "hot" and "cold" together whith "temperature" is not very useful, except for comparing temperatures: especially when temperature scales with negative numbers is used (Celsius and Farenheit etc) its better to say its "10 degrees colder" than saying its "10 degrees less" when talking about the difference between -10°C and -20°C because the negative numbers may confuse us.

And btw, don't ever talk about "doubling" temperatures unless using Kelvin (or any other scale with an absolute zero point), 100°C (373.15 K) is not "twice" as hot as 50°C (323.15 K).

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The painful temperature illusion works both ways too; If you touch hot metal while outside in the winter (or inside large freezer), you'd probably think that it was biting cold, but I would not recommend trying that... ;) –  Stein G. Strindhaug Feb 22 '11 at 10:30

The word temperature is value-neutral without a modifier. It implies neither heat nor cold. If you can say "a temperature of 0°C" or "a temperature of 98.6°F" you certainly ought to be able to talk about a "cold" or a "hot" temperature.

When serving beer, purists will tell you that the temperature of the beverage should be cool, not cold, despite what American beer commercials would have you believe. In England, beer is served at room temperature, but one should remember that this implies a colder temperature than it does in America.

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But it isn't the temperature of the beverage that's cold, but the beverage itself… right? –  ShreevatsaR Feb 21 '11 at 14:06
    
@ShreevatsaR: Depends on your point of view, I guess. –  Robusto Feb 21 '11 at 14:15
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Temperature is a property of a beverage. Just as it may have a large volume and a dark color, it can have a cold temperature. Saying "the beverage is cold" has the same meaning as "the beverage has a cold temperature," it's just a matter of diction. –  tankadillo Feb 21 '11 at 17:43
    
On this I'm inclined to agree with @jjackson - but even if I didn't, Robusto's quote would be fine: saying "the temperature of the beverage is cold" is akin to saying "the colour of the ball is red" i.e. there's some sort of usage/mention distinction going on. –  psmears Feb 21 '11 at 18:01
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@jjackson: Are you saying that "beverage is cold" = "beverage's temperature is cold" = "beverage's temperature is low"? I'm trying to understand how a temperature, which can be called high/low, can also be called hot/cold… (and colour is not analogous because colours can't be high or low). It would help if someone here clarified what they thought about fast speed and high speed, loud volume and high volume, cheap prices and low prices, the probability is unlikely and the probability is high, etc. –  ShreevatsaR Feb 21 '11 at 19:31

It depends on context. When temperature is used as an attribute of an object, you can say the temperature of the coffee is hot. It's possible to analyse this as an example of the use–mention distinction, which is clearly illustrated by using quotes:

The temperature of the coffee is “hot”.

Or by substituting a different attribute, as in the colour of the coffee is brown. But while this is not wrong, it sounds somewhat stilted, and may be semantically misleading. As others have mentioned, it's possible to analyse the temperature of the coffee is hot as:

The temperature of the coffee has a high temperature.

Which is clearly wrong, or at least some strange kind of redundant. In phrases such as cold temperature and fast speed, I think there are two things at work. First and most importantly, people associate low temperature and cold thing and synthesise them into one term, cold temperature. Second, you can still analyse this as a mention of the adjective, in apposition with the noun it modifies. Quotes, again, serve to illustrate how this can work, and also how awkward it is:

He was going at a “fast” speed.

Which you can restructure to be compatible with the earlier examples:

The nature of his speed was “fast”.

Because of this, it's possible to analyse such sentences as 20°C is a colder temperature than 30°C by referring to the nature or quality of the things involved: the nature of the temperature “20°C” is that it is colder than the temperature “30°C”. It is equally valid to use words such as temperature and speed to refer to the literal scientific concept as well as the subjective experience.

However, regardless of whether you'll be understood, it's usually considered better to write according to the clearer and more literal semantic interpretation:

The coffee is hot. The coffee has a high temperature.
He was driving fast. He was travelling at high speed.
The event is probable. It has a high probability.
The dress is cheap. It has a low price.

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"The temperature of the coffee is hot" is actually ambiguous. It can mean the temperature itself is hot, as in "The man of the house is tall". But it can also mean the coffee is hot, as in "The size of the coat is large". When it's unambiguous that you're describing the temperature itself, it sounds a lot less pleasant. For example, "This coffee has a hot temperature". –  David Schwartz Nov 26 '12 at 3:25

"Temperature" is an abstract concept designed to convey a relative measurement of heat. "Temperature" has no physical properties — one cannot paint, hold, touch, throw or place a temperature in one's pocket. Likewise one cannot boil or freeze a temperature, therefore it cannot be "cold" or "hot" although whatever is being measured can be.

The weather or air can be "hot" or "cold", temperature cannot be. Temperature is the measurement, not what is being measured. To say the "temperature is hot" is confusing the measurement with what is being measured. Temperature can be "high" or "higher" or "lower" relative to some other measurement. Saying "The temperature of the coffee is hot." just doesn't make any sense and is unnecessarily wordy. It is the coffee that is hot, not the temperature. "The coffee is hot." makes sense and is correctly stated.

To answer the question, "cold temperature" or "hot temperature" is not only definitely wrong, it makes no sense.

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"The temperature of the coffee is hot" is perfectly correct and does say that the coffee is hot, just as "The position of the switch is on" means that the switch is on. It may help if you imagine a slight pause between "is" and "hot", or if you imagine someone asking, "What is the temperature of this coffee?" and the response, "The temperature of this coffee is hot". –  David Schwartz Nov 26 '12 at 3:30

The few instances I can offer right away in defense of the phrase would be:

1. adj. High performance in cold-temperature environments.
2. n. pl. The Alberta Government through WorkSafe provides a guide to best practices on working in cold and hot temperatures.

Obviously, though, without a strongly appropriate context, the phrases cold temperature and hot temperature are just wrong.

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Why are they wrong? –  Mitch Nov 26 '12 at 13:54
    
@Mitch Obviously, you didn't read the other answers. I don't intend to repeat what has been said all through history. Closely related: english.stackexchange.com/q/55655/14666 –  Kris Nov 27 '12 at 4:29
    
@AnonymousDownVoter#n Down voters have time only for down voting, and not for reason? –  Kris Nov 27 '12 at 4:34
    
I guess we have different ideas of what 'obvious' means. If it is so obvious, then why say it? Your two examples are good for a comment then. –  Mitch Nov 27 '12 at 13:35

protected by RegDwigнt Nov 26 '12 at 9:59

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