By Jay Zimmer

You hear it everywhere these days. Cool! The Fonz was the Sultan of Cool. Popular music by L.L. Cool J.

“Cool” has become more than a word; it has taken on a life of its own. And like other, more inprintable words, it has a stand-along property that is defined in context and needs no list of definitions of its own.

It wasn’t always that way.

I spent many of my youthful summers through the mid-1950’s to the late 1960’s in the wilds of Chesapeake Bay Maryland with the Brant Boys – four brothers who were among my favorite cousins. Pat – the closest to me in age – was a major purveyor of “cool” in those days. It was a word he invoked frequently, and like his Maryland accent, I quickly picked it up.

“Cool,” in those days, meant a particular action that merited special kudos – being able to go back outside after dinner comes to mind. So does doing a particularly smooth dive into the brackish water that was our childhood playground. “Cool” was our favorite song on the radio. “Cool” was a particularly well-executed catch or pass done by older brothers Mike and Tim (who went on to be university of Maryland standouts – which is also cool!). “Cool” was the year’s new “hoopie talk,” that Dennis always introduced me to -- such as calling each other ‘Hoss.’ “Cool” was whatever we liked at that moment.

That was “cool” when I was saying “cool.” It was a felicity of expression that was frowned upon by the older generation – beatnik-ish and unintelligible to the post-World-War II generation that spawned my Baby Boomer brothers and sisters – who once used that word as rebellion and expressive dignity for themselves. I still do, but my, how things have changed.

“Cool” has evolved into a many-faceted word over the decades since summering at Selby On The Bay was cool. “Cool” became an attitude, an intrinsic quality granted to an elite few. “Cool” became a look-the-other-way attitude toward wrongdoing, an untraceable street weapon, a score of an illicit substance and the attitude it took to make that score.

“Cool” is to stop what you’re doing – right now – as in “cool it!”

“Cool” is to calm down, especially from a rage – as in “be cool.”

“Cool” is a word that’s just plain fun to say – and it’s totally right for it to have taken on the mores of multiple generations. It is, for the most part, a positive expression, one that gives hope and perhaps a smile.

Words have always fascinated me, but few more than this little four-letter place-holder. I’m looking forward to seeing what connotations this simple word takes on as new generations discover it.

And that’s cool.