Summer has officially begun, which means that for most of us in the northern hemisphere, temperatures are on their way up. Sure, we could write about how hot, or steamy, or roasting it is, or about how you could fry an egg on the sidewalk (please don’t), but English gives us a lot of other great, lesser-used words to
whine with color our prose.
This is a great word to describe the current weather as we ramp up to the sweltering summer. Here in the Midwest, we are in the throes of a calescent June; calescent means “growing warmer.” It’s etymologically related to both calories and caliente.
It’s only a short jump to a metaphorical use to describe, say, a single mother’s son “warming up” to her new boyfriend, or a new employee “warming up” to a job.
Ancient Roman astronomers linked the rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, with the increased summer temperatures of July and August, believing that its brilliance added to the heat of the sun. They referred to that time of year as canicularis dies, “days of the dog.” This idea survives in English as the dog days of summer, but it also gives us the hyperspecific adjective canicular “of or relating to the dog days.”
Most of us probably only use the word igneous to refer to igneous rock — which is formed from the solidification of magma — but the word is more flexible than that. From the Latin ignis “fire,” igneous can also mean “of, relating to, or resembling fire,” which has numerous applications during a hot summer.
This scientific term comes from the Greek thermē “heat” plus the combining form -genic “produced or formed by.” Something thermogenic induces or produces heat.
Though the term is generally limited to scientific and biologic texts, asphalt, political arguments, and the stranger who sits too close to you on an uncooled public bus certainly can seem thermogenic.
Ever dream of having a torrid affair? Maybe not, but you’ve no doubt read about torrid affairs before — they are de rigueur in noir fiction and tabloid cover stories. Torrid used in this way means “ardent or passionate,” but the word originally meant “scorching, or parched with heat, especially from the sun.”
Image: “Bonzer in the kiddie pool” by Russell Harrison Photography, via Flickr.