One meaning, the one that I've always known and thought about it when someone said the word "chill", was "very relaxed or easy going" with the example "in general, I am a pretty chill guy", as given by the definition when you search the word on Google.

However, another definition is "an unpleasant feeling" or even to "horrify or frighten someone", with the example "there was a chill in the air".

Even though the word chill in the first example is informal, still I find the 2 definitions in contrast with each other — opposite.

My question is why do we have today this word with two completely different meanings? When did the informal meaning appear? Does it cause some confusion?

  • 6
    Think of "cool" and "cold".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 29, 2019 at 18:17
  • 1
    First of all, it's being used as a noun in one example and an adjective in another. Jan 29, 2019 at 19:45
  • 1
    If you are angry then you are steamed, hot under the collar, boiling mad... etc. So being chill for not being hot makes perfect sense, as does a chill wind, or getting the chills.
    – Jim
    Jan 29, 2019 at 21:38
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    Context. Cool in summer is pleasant; cool in winter is an ordeal. QED. There is no contrast in meaning.
    – Kris
    Jan 30, 2019 at 11:13
  • There's probably more danger of confusion with "cool": Saying "he's cool with the idea" means the opposite to "he's cool on the idea". But I can't think of anything so similar with "chill". And note that hot has equivalent ambiguities, with it meaning angry but "being hot on/about something" meaning to be keen on something.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


The original sense was used figuratively from the 19th century:


Figurative sense "depressing situation or influence" is from 1821 (in Middle English the figurative sense was "suffering, misfortune").


The contemporary sense of relaxed is an AmE usage from the verbal expression “chill out:”

Chill out:

The idiom chill out means to relax or calm down. This idiom is commonly used in American English.

Chill out became popular in America in the 1970s and functions as a phrasal verb. However, unlike many phrasal verbs, this phrase may be shortened to chill while retaining its idiomatic meaning.



(orig. US black) 1983 : calm, untroubled, relaxed.

(Green’s Dictionary of Slang)

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