As I get older (into my 30s) the less I feel like using youthful slang, and I take extra pride in using professional English. But I can't think of a word that is universally equivalent to the colloquial term "cool" that means "worthy to judgmental youths" or something of that nature.

Could you suggest some more professional-sounding terms that can be used instead? Something that would be appropriate to put in a book or research paper or news report on the topic of "coolness".

  • 3
    I wouldn't call cool slang. (Informal, yes, but at this point it is completely ubiquitous. Universally used and understood, across all dialects, registers, and ages.) That being said, more formal alternatives will be included in a dictionary of your choice, in the very definition of the word. No need to even fire up a thesaurus.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 22:42
  • Cool has a wide variety of meanings. Could you give some specific examples of the uses you're looking to avoid? (Like you, I'm in my 30's, and I work both in academia and in business, but have no qualms about using cool — though of course, never in formal publications.) Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 22:45
  • For example, if I was writing analytical essays about movies: 1) "In Mean Girls (2004) the stars of the movie are 4 attractive girls who are perceived as 'cool' by the rest of the students." Or 2) "Children who watch movies are most likely to look up to the 'cool' character in the movie as a role model rather than the dork/nerd." Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 22:50
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    The characteristic of all slang and many informal expressions is to be so elusive to definition and so transient in implication that no formal expression can or should ever be treated as a near-synonym. Such words acquire and thrive in a certain meaning at certain times according to context of usage. Cool is no exception. Your only option is to say "... like the boys would say, cool, you know what I mean..." so you are attributing the word to 'those boys' not yourself.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 6:48
  • 1
    The fact that there may be no answer does not disqualify a question.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 6:52

4 Answers 4


I agree that the term, cool, is inappropriate for a formal letter, research paper or even a magazine review if the audience is known to be experts themselves in the subject. To say a film is cool is reductive and might get a few of your readers rolling their eyes. Ironically, I believe that to be cool one ought to avoid using that expression; it's becoming overused, but that's my personal opinion.

The OP ought to consider how people from the 40s, 50s, 60s and possibly early 70s would have expressed the same concept. (Now someone will tell me that "cool" meaning impressive, admirable, inimitable, and wow was first used in 1800s or thereabouts.) 1

When I was living in London as a child, cool usually meant mildly cold or indifferent, wicked was associated with witches and criminals, and sick meant vomit. We did use bad though, when we meant "very good".

However, much depends on who your readers are. If I had to describe a new car or a hi-tech gadget, and compliment it on its design or features I might very well opt for "a cool design" and "cool features". But if I wanted to be more specific, (or original) I'd choose from one of these adjectives instead: (in no order of preference)

  • sleek; streamlined; sexy; seductive; stylish; dynamic; innovative; astounding; impressive; breathtaking; elegant; smart; intelligent; unique etc.

For a film/movie review you would probably need a different list, unless you were commenting on the camera shots then many of those suggested above would fit. A "cool" movie could also be described as being:

  • extremely popular; trendy; has a large following; modern; exciting; thrilling; exhilarating; inspiring; etc.

Actually, I'm beginning to realize just how versatile "cool" is...

  • Very good answer. While no word is completely equivalent, impressive, trendy and seductive cover the biggest proportion of usages. Thanks. Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 18:41
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    Did you mean inimitable instead of unimitable?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 4:44
  • 1
    @Pacerier thank you for noticing my mistake, I've amended it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 7:49

If you searched Google for "cool meaning", you will find a substantial list of definitions. According to your given context above, an appropriate definition would be under (3) (informal):

fashionably attractive or impressive

"youngsters are turning to smoking because they think it makes them appear cool"

synonyms: fashionable, stylish, chic, up to the minute; sophisticated, cosmopolitan, elegant; le dernier cri; informal trendy, funky, with it, hip, in, big, happening, now, groovy, sharp, swinging; informal kicky, tony, fly; black English: down "she thinks she's so cool"

With all that said, I would like to suggest "socially popular", as it should fit well in your example sentences. (Though personally, I think there is nothing wrong with the use of the word "cool" in those places.)

  • Chic is an interesting one. And yes "socially popular", while verbose, is a congruent synonym (though of course can only apply to people rather than "cool" inanimate objects). Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 18:43

Depending on context, you can try:

  • neat, tidy, spruce, polished, dapper, immaculate

  • shiny, lucent, glace, lustrous, sheeny, dazzling, sparkling, fulgent, effulgent, ceraceous, resplendent, refulgent, brilliant, patinous, agleam, radiant

  • waxy

  • slick, velvety, smooth, satin, satiny

  • spiffy, dandy, natty, swank, chic, classy, arty, dashing, smart, stylish, snazzy, pizzazz, jazzy, grandiose, elegant, recherche, frilly, baroque, deluxe, ritzy, lush, ornate, majestic, palatial, sumptuous, exquisite

  • splendid

  • opulent, rich

  • delicate

  • fragrant, ambrosial

  • heavenly

  • graceful, lambent

  • blazing, flaming

  • None of those seem applicable to the adjective to describe people. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 3:45
  • @Sridhar-Sarnobat, "cool" could refer to a situation or a thing as well.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 5:10
  • I'm not disputing that cool is an adjective for inanimate nouns. I posted the question because I am trying to solve the problem of how to describe a cool person without using the word cool. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 6:13

In terms of labelling a human, simply popular is your best alternate. It's that simple.

Note however that (as I think you suggest) "cool" (when labelling a human) can have three main meanings:

  • Cool as in Joe Walsh

  • Cool as in sang froid (although this is less used by young people, only boring old people use it this way)

  • Cool as in simply "popular", "popular with young people". ie essentially a label for the currently popular pop or film personality. (Err - or youtube, or whatever.)

Your best alternative for the first is relaxed, for the second icy or smooth, and for the third popular.

Note too that there are more "slang" (so to speak!) uses of it: I think the most prominent fourth use is "He's OK," i.e., "He's not with the cops; you don't have to be suspicious of him; even though he's an adult you can trust him not to be a dickhead" and so on.

Finally note too that, as you probably know, "cool" is wildly out of date for anyone under .. what .. 60, say? I feel it's very unlikely teenagers (2015) would say it today, at all.

  • I like your suggestion. It fits well. Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 20:15
  • Though I would add "popular as a result of some novel/innovative/fresh tendencies/presentation", since we wouldn't label people "cool" that have a long history of being popular (e.g. Nelson Mandela). Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 17:25

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