“Boy, is it a hot day!” Bob exclaimed to his friends. They were in hot pursuit of an enemy squad and were headed towards the area where the fighting was hottest. Frank wasn’t feeling so hot, as he hadn’t gotten any sleep the last few nights because some cats right outside of his tent were in heat. Corey carried all of their serious ammo because Dave had a hot temper. The uranium-tipped bullets required special care because they were hot from the radioactive metal involved.
The squad’s new orders came hot off the presses on hot-pink paper, meaning urgent. They were ordered to question a local business that was selling hot goods off the black market. They were listening to a hot jazz lick in the jeep on their way to the store. They pulled up next to a hot rod at a red light and the blonde driving it was hot! Later that night, they had some hot wings and played cards. Joe really got on a roll when the cards got hot.
This small, three-letter word can have many different meanings in our language. This illustrates one reason why English is one of the hardest languages to learn if you are not a native speaker.
“Hot” first started being used in 825 to describe being or becoming hot. The more common root was Middle English, from Old English hāt; and started in 1000 (dictionary. reference). Hot stayed mainly intact with a few variations in the 1500’s meaning passionate and spicy. Then alternate definitions of hot exploded in the 1880’s and early 1900’s. We have pretty much settled into the word hot now and haven’t had a truly new definition of the word since 1942, which referred to being radioactive.
With the state of our society now, we really only use two basic definitions of hot. Hot meaning temperature; and hot meaning sexy. Of course we use hot in most of its capacities in everyday speech, and rarely think twice about the fact that we use the same word to convey more than 20 different meanings. The thing that makes it possible for us to understand each other is context. How it is used depends on the other words surrounding it and the topic being discussed.
Hot, as temperature: Hot usually means that an object has a high degree of molecular energy known as heat (OED.) It sometimes refers to the sensation given when people eat spicy foods.
Hot, as positive: Hot can mean many things. It could mean that the dice are “lucky” in a game of craps. It can mean very attractive looks. It can refer to a souped up car like a hot-rod. It can be a favorite thing or the best part of a song.
Hot, as dangerous: Hot in the dangerous sense usually means that a weapon has its safety button off. It also means that there is electricity still flowing through a wire. Stolen goods are also hot. Purloined diamonds are “hot ice” (OED). Hot also describes radioactive materials and other topics like a hot-zone after a nuclear bomb blast.
Hot, as passion: Animals are said to be in heat when they are ready to mate. Bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) and dolphins are the only other animals besides humans that engage in sex for pleasure and not just procreation (snopes). It can be said that someone has a hot temper when they become angry quickly. Fighting can be hot when it is intense and violent. A color can also be hot when it is vivid and intense. Someone can have a hot blush when they are embarrassed or with the person they have a crush on.
There are other uses that defy categorization like a newly minted Treasury bill and the phone line being in constant use. Newspapers are hot off the presses and print hot button articles. Children play a game where the seeker gets hotter or colder depending on their proximity to the hidden object.
So, even though our society has progressed over the years, our language like our lives, remains complicated. Immigrants coming to the United States may take years to learn English simply for the fact that it’s too complicated. They will hear a conversation on the street and say, “Wait, I though that word meant something else.” Well it does. Hot can mean many things. This could be part of the reason why we have such closely knit cultural communities in large cities. They don’t need to speak English when they are surrounded by their countrymen. Is there a solution for simplifying our language? It doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon; but if it does, there will be some hot debates to decide which words and definitions to keep and which ones to throw away and forget.
“hot.” Oxford English Dictionary March 24 2004 <http://dictionary.oed.com>
“Buried Pleasure.” March 11 2001. March 24 2004 <www.snopes.com>
“hot.” Dictionary.com March 30 2004 <http://dictionary.reference.com>
“hot.” Hyperdictionary March 30 2004 <http://www.hyperdictionary.com>