June 28, 2021

Words of the Month - Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

         I have mentioned before my undying passion for my thesaurus in original form, and today I turn to it to look at synonyms for the seemingly simple word hot.
        The first point to note is that “simple” words are often exactly the ones that end up with the broadest array of applications.  In the case of hot, it can mean warm in physical temperature, but also lustful, stolen, zealous, angry, good-looking, passionate, colored in the red-yellow range, near in proximity or on the right scent, new, syncopated, excellent, radioactive, embarrassed… and more.  Not so simple after all!  But even if we restrict ourselves to the more literal temperature words, we still have an incredible array of synonyms.  Confining myself still further to the ones that are in reasonably active use (no calid, pyric, or sudorific today,  for example), we have

fiery, burning, flaming, kindling, incendiary, blazing, 

scorching, blistering, scalding, 

torched, parched, singed, seared, charred, incinerated, molten, 

warm, toasty,

tropical, torrid, sweltering, sultry, stifling, muggy

baking, roasting, toasting, broiling, grilling, simmering, seething, boiling

sizzling, smoking, sweaty, 

hot as a furnace, an oven, hell, a sauna, blazes

        The more temperate words, such as warm and toasty are most often used with positive connotations, implying comfort.  It’s not surprising that as you get into the words derived from fire or cooking, they would no longer sound so comfortable.  It is perhaps more interesting that words like tropical and hot as a sauna can be negative when they both refer to things that people are supposed to enjoy.
        The reason I love this array of words so much is that as a writer (or even just a speaker) I can rummage through them searching for the one with the perfect connotation.  They all mean “hot,” but which one I use to describe a character’s situation tells you so much more than just the temperature.  It tells you whether the heat is humid or dry, whether it is causing physical pain (or feeling like it’s causing damage, at least), whether the character finds it oppressive or acute, enervating or galvanizing, active or passive, beautiful or horrifying…  When Millicent leaves her apartment building and finds the sidewalk sizzling, it’s clearly not good.  If she’s a gumshoe on the way to a stake-out it may simply be another hot night in the mean city, while if she’s going out to scavenge food for her post-apocalyptic people the ground might literally be smoldering.  Either way, it’s something Millicent will have to deal with, and I love that as I try to make her world come alive I can choose between the delicate nuances of sizzling versus broiling versus scorching…  
        Maybe this is just a writer thing and sounds stupid or shallow to others, but even during difficult or unpleasant times I find surprising comfort in thinking about how best to convey the experience in words.  If it’s going to be bad, I may as well be able to express just precisely how bad!  (It is certainly hot here where I am right now, but really not so very bad.  My heart goes out to those with truly extreme weather right now.  Hang in there, and take care of yourselves and each other.)

[Pictures: Carr Fire 2018, color woodcut by Makaylah Fazzari, 2018 (Image from MakaylahFazzari);

The Great Fire at Ryogoku Bridge, Viewed from Asakusa Bridge, color woodblock print by Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1881 (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]


Olga Godim said...

You're right: hot is the word of the month. I find your post with all the thesaurus synonyms fascinating. The images are scary though. Just yesterday, I talked to my son on the phone, and he expressed his concern about forest fires from all that heat.

JadeLi said...

The magical world of words allow us to find just the right one to suit the circumstance. It is marvelous isn't it. Your essay reminds me of reading about how many words Eskimos have for snow. I think having first-hand, intimate knowledge of a thing (noun)expands the number of nuances you can find to describe it.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Ha, Jade, here's my post on the Eskimo words for snow: https://nydamprintsblackandwhite.blogspot.com/2015/01/words-of-month-40-words-for-snow.html

Olga, it is scary indeed in some places.