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It’s December, and whether or not the solstice has technically passed, that means it’s winter. The temperature has already dropped below freezing once or twice, and it’s about to happen a lot more. Year after year, I step out the door in the morning and remark to myself that it’s cold. It’s happened enough that the word has become stale. It’s time for some diversity. Here, I present my objective spectrum of temperature.
“Cool.” Just a few degrees below the perfectly balanced 70 Fahrenheit, this is the ideal temperature for physical activities outside. When it’s cool, a jacket isn’t necessary. You can bask in the sun without breaking a sweat, but you don’t need it to be comfortable.
“Brisk.” When you find yourself picking up the pace when you exit your car or walk from one building to another, you know it’s solidly brisk. You still don’t need a jacket, but you’d rather not just stand around outside without one.
“Chilly.” There’s one easy way to know when the temperature has dropped from brisk to chilly. If it is chilly, you will begin to get goosebumps on your bare arms. While still somewhat tolerable, many will refrain from wearing a jacket in chilly weather, but few can argue that they wouldn’t be more comfortable with one, especially when a breeze sweeps through.
“Nippy.” When the temperature reaches nippy, you start to feel the sting of the cold on your exposed skin. A wind in nippy weather will sting your face, and your lips and knuckles will become chapped over longer periods of time outside.
“Cold.” This is the gold standard of cold temperatures. It’s simple, boring even, but sometimes it truly is the most appropriate descriptor. Right around 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, “Cold” is hard to describe without numbers. How can one compare cold to itself?
“Freezing.” It goes without saying that freezing is a very cold temperature. However, “freezing” as a descriptor of feeling cold is different from the technical definition, as it begins above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. As soon as the temperature drops into the thirties, it can be classified as freezing.
“Freezing Cold.” By using the word “freezing” to modify the word “cold” instead of “freezing” by itself, we are able to bring ourselves to the bottom end of the objective temperature spectrum. Beginning the moment the temperature dips below 30 degrees Fahrenheit and encompassing everything underneath that mark, I can’t tell one “freezing cold” from another. Maybe it’s my Atlanta upbringing talking, but freezing cold is freezing cold, whether it’s 25 degrees Fahrenheit or zero. Sure, I could spend more time in it to learn the difference, but I think I’d rather stay inside.
This temperature spectrum provides a solid base for expanding the common vocabulary of myself and others beyond the dull “cold.” However, it still leaves room for modification.
“COLD.” By emphasizing the word as you speak, you drop the implied temperature by a solid 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit — and this rule can be applied to any descriptor on the spectrum, beginning with “chilly.” (Regardless of how much you bug out your eyes and yell “brisk,” “brisk” still means “brisk.”) This allows for customization of the descriptors to perfectly encapsulate every temperature. But we can go even deeper.
“CO-OLD.” By stretching the word out over an additional syllable, you drop the implied temperature by approximately 5 degrees Fahrenheit for each added syllable. And while this rule can only be applied to words that have already been emphasized in all caps, it allows for the substitution of certain descriptors on the spectrum, if one chooses. “CO-OLD” is approximately equal to “freezing.”
“F****** Cold.” This is the last way to emphasize your descriptors. The addition of profanity sinks the implied temperature by a substantial ~10 degrees Fahrenheit. By mixing and matching these three modifiers with your descriptors of choice, you can be linguistically prepared for anything winter throws at you.
So next time you step out your door and feel that blast of winter air chill you to the bone, don’t just say it’s “cold.” “Cold” is boring. Let’s mix it up.