How Many Ways Can a Jazz Cat Use ‘Cool’?


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January 16, 1957, Vol. II, No. 12

The Lingo

By Bob Reisner

Jazz slang is continually changing. It changes because a term becomes distasteful to its originators as soon as it becomes too popular, because it then loses its exclusiveness and secretiveness, and because the uninitiated do not usually give it that inflection and accent which provides it with its special meaning.

One of the interesting features of the jazz language is that an individual can subsist and satisfy his needs with a vocabulary of some dozen words; it’s all in the way (rhythmically and musically) in which the word is said. Take the word cool. The original meaning of cool in modern jazz circles was to denote a relaxed yet swinging type of music containing the emotional elements of good jazz yet showing a kind of restraint lacking the frantic antics of hot jazz. It became and still is an adjective describing music at its best. Man, that’s real cool. Following is an imaginary encounter between A, using the King’s English, and B, showing how many ways you can use one word.

A. I am moved to castigate X strongly for stealing my girl.

B. Be cool, man. (In stopping a fight or cautioning a person against losing his temper or of the approach of policemen, one can also say: “Cool it.”)

A. You’re right. I’ll forget it. Do you want to go to the movies?

B. It’s cool with me (acquiescence).

A. Do you have enough money?

B. I’m cool (in good financial condition).

A. But aren’t you supposed to play with that orchestra you have been rehearsing with?

B. I’m cooling tonight (I’m refraining from playing).

A. Shall we call on X and take him with us?

B. I’m cooling on him (ignoring a person or subtly snubbing him).

A. I can well understand your feelings about X. He is quite a gauche individual, but he does play a good horn…and he does steal a good girl.

B. Someone should cool him on out (to cool a cat is to make him aware of what is going on around him).

A. You used to have a terrible addiction to ice cream. Shall we buy some at the next corner?

B. No, I’m cooling it (tapering off).

A. Then you must be feeling lean and strong.

B. I’m cool (in good shape).

A. All right, let’s go.

B. Cool.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]