Word of the Week – Heat

‘Word of the Week’ is DYT’s new weekly partnership with author Tim Glynn-Jones. Each week Tim will choose a word, exploring the history behind its meaning, pulling upon an assortment of wry observations on life as well as revealing some surprising historical facts and amusing home truths. This week: Heat.

If you’re shivering in your car right now, rueing the fact that you didn’t pack the Thermos and still haven’t got round to buying those snow chains, spare a thought for the residents of Telfer, Australia. Not only is this remote mining community about as far from anywhere as it’s possible to get, the temperature today hit 45˚C.

And before you start complaining that your fingertips are going numb, consider the plight of the people of Selagoncy, who are currently getting on with it in the teeth of a -56.2˚C chill.

Makes your blood freeze just thinking about it. The best thing you can do is think warming thoughts: You’ll soon be feeling the heat again.

We’ve used the word heat as a metaphor for the heat we feel inside pretty much ever since we started using the word heat as a word (we’re talking Old English). Heat can mean pressure, spiciness, excitement.

But how, I’m sure you’re wondering, did heat come to mean a qualifying race? What’s that got to do with the climate in Telfer? And why is a dead heat so much more exciting than a dead rubber – rubber meaning the deciding game in a sporting match? And if you mix heat and rubber, it smells horrible. Why is that?

Back in the 1600s, when kings weren’t hiding in oak trees or being beheaded, they enjoyed a spot of horse racing. And when they took their horse for a gallop to prepare it for a race, they called this a heat, for the obvious reason that they were warming the horse up. The word then came to be used for the race itself, and later for a qualifying race in a bigger contest.

The origin of rubber, in the sense of a sporting contest, is not certain, but it probably has something to do with friction. Rubber itself is so-called because it was first used for rubbing things out. A rub, as in Hamlet’s ‘Ay, there’s the rub’, was an obstacle or difficulty, and hence two adversaries might have been said to be rubbing up against each other. Hence rubber.

Something to chew on as you’re wondering why you’re tyres don’t seem to be gripping any more.

Word of the Week is a collaboration between DYT and author Tim Glynne-Jones. Word of the Week began as a weekly blog in 2016. A book of the first 52 words in the series – Word of the Week: Volume One – is available to buy at word-of-the-week.com.


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