I was recently having a conversation with a friend from England. During the conversation I described someone as being cool, but he seemed confused by the term and asked me what I meant.

I couldn't really explain to him that well what it would equate to in UK English. Does anyone know of a good way to explain "cool" to someone who isn't familiar with the term?

  • I said I was aware they're considered westerners, poor wording on my part I guess. – Him_Jalpert Oct 7 '14 at 18:54
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    It's hard to imagine a native English speaker who isn't familiar with this use of cool. It's been common for at least 50 years. – Barmar Oct 7 '14 at 19:07
  • Agreed, it sort of caught me off-guard, hence why I wasn't able to explain what it meant. It's just something that's common knowledge to most native English speakers. – Him_Jalpert Oct 7 '14 at 19:08
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    I admit that I'd probably have a hard time describing it without using other colloquialisms that he might not know, like hip or with it. – Barmar Oct 7 '14 at 19:10
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    There's no easy way to define what cool means because it's such a vague term in the first place. My "young adult" children might say I'm "cool" because they like the way I interact with their friends, because they think I'm a sharp dresser, or simply because I'm usually fairly relaxed. Well, actually they probably wouldn't, because they don't usually think I'm particularly cool. But it's noticeable that poor communicators use vague terms like this a lot, because it saves them having to think of exactly what they really mean (which they may not have the vocabulary to express anyway). – FumbleFingers Oct 7 '14 at 21:07

People in England know lots of meanings for the word cool. As a personality trait, it can mean aloof, trendy, laid-back, sound, or accomplished, and probably many more things too, even before you start thinking of its meaning more widely. Each of these meanings can be quite distinct from the others.

If someone from the UK was asking you what you meant, they were either seeking clarification or being contrary.

Maybe you could choose a meaning from the above words or, -- to be facetious for a moment, -- find someone more co-operative to talk with?

Examples of these different usages:

  • Doris has always been warm and giving, but Eva is often a little cool. [aloof]
  • Is this where the cool kids go? [trendy]
  • No, you're fine. He is cool with high-test peroxide. [unanxious]
  • Don't worry about him deceiving you, he's cool. [sound]
  • He is one cool accordion player. [accomplished]
  • I agree with everything here (good "spread" of possible meanings in contemporary usage contexts). But it might be worth explicitly making the point which seems to be at least strongly implied by those examples. Neither OP, you, nor anyone else could possibly give an exact synonym or single definition for "cool" as used today, because it has a range of meanings. I hate to allude to my age, but I can remember when some (but not all) of those meanings could be conveyed by fab, swinging, far-out, etc. – FumbleFingers Oct 8 '14 at 14:11

'Cool' is one of those words whose signification has shifted (in my (English) experience) more often than most. In the 1950s it meant Miles Davis and sharp suits. In the 60s this carried on into the mod image, but also came to be applied to anything from Che Guevara to patchouli oil. More lately, smartphones, tablets are all described as 'cool'.

What does 'cool' mean? Perhaps unflappability in the face of overwhelming complexity.

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    So close to being a cool answer, so close. By Jove, it is! – Mari-Lou A Oct 8 '14 at 6:36

It completely depends upon the inflection you give the word "cool" and the facial expressions that accompany it as well. An example of such was done with the word "dude" in 'Dude Where's My Car'. Cool can mean many different things if you want it to.

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