9 Common Terms That Come From Words for Heat

humonia/iStock via Getty Images
humonia/iStock via Getty Images

From calm to ink, here are some words we use that—surprisingly enough—can be traced back to words for heat.

1. Calm

Calm is related to Old Spanish and Portuguese calma, which meant "heat of the day." That was the time when everything stopped for a while so people and animals could find some shade; the time when everything got quiet and calm. It comes from the Latin cauma for "burning heat."

2. Day

Day comes from Old English daeg, which is related to the words for "day" in other Germanic languages (dag in Swedish Danish, Tag in German). Etymologists have traced it back to a root that also gave rise to Sanskrit dah, "to burn." It shows up with its "hot" sense in Lithuanian dagas, "hot season," and Old Prussian dagis, "summer."

3. Bath

Bath can be traced back to an Old Germanic base bajo-, meaning "to foment," and related to the Latin fovere, meaning "to warm something up." It originally had the primary meaning of submersion in hot liquid and then came to be used for a bath in liquid of any temperature.

4. Breed

Breed is related to the Old Germanic root bro-, "to heat something up," like when birds warm their eggs to help them hatch.

5. Chafe

Chafe comes from the French chauffer, "to warm." It was used in English in the sense of warming things (this is how we get chafing-dish), but also for rubbing the limbs in order to warm them up, which led to the sense of "irritation through friction."

6. Flagrant

Something that is flagrant is glaring and obvious, like … something that is on fire. It comes from the Latin flagrare, "to burn." Flagrant was indeed used to mean "fiery" for a time, but now the metaphorical meaning seems to be more popular.

7. Effervescence

Effervescence comes from the Latin exfeverscere, "to begin to boil," which is based on fervere, "to be hot." (The root also gives us fervid, fervent, and fervor). The word has lost the hot part of its sense, leaving us with just the bubbly part.

8. Ink

Ink can be traced all the way back to the Greek form that also gave us encaustic, meaning "to burn in," and referring to the process of burning wax paints onto objects to make the colors stay. Thankfully, we don't have to use fire to burn our words onto the page anymore.

9. Phlegm

For as long as it's been in English, phlegm has been associated with mucus and phlegmatic humor (from the theory of the 4 humors). The phlegmatic humor has always been thought of as the cold, clammy one, but the word phlegm relates back to the Ancient Greek phlegma, which referred to inflammation or the clamminess caused by being heated, which in turn relates back to the Ancient Greek for "burn" or "blaze."

This list first ran in 2013 and was republished in 2019.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
Mckyartstudio/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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