It's summertime, and if there were one word for this season, it would have to be hot.This is the time of year when temperatures soar, causing prudent folks to reach for sunscreen with an also-high SPF number. It's time to go to the beach, bake like a meatloaf, and then do it again next week.
It's also the time of year to vary your complaints. In other seasons, we grumble about arctic temperatures, pounding rain, and ominous gloom. But in the sunniest time of year, we prove the words of Jerry Garcia correct: "Every silver lining has a touch of grey." Now is the time for complainers of all ages to whine and moan about the humidity, the heat, the sweating, the crowds at festivals, and everything else under the scorching, blazing, merciless sun.
Fortunately, there are plenty of words for heat beyond hot. Please consider using some of these heated terms when describing July, August, or Hades.
Check out this list of more hot vocabulary: The Sweltering Word of Summer
Literally, anything nuclear refers to the nucleus of an atom. Nuclear energy comes from splitting the atom, and that's why you see references to nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants, and nuclear scientists. However, sometimes this term is used a bit more loosely. When an argument gets out of hand, it goes nuclear, and when the temperatures rise to preposterous degrees, you can say the weather has also reached nuclear levels. The nuclear-as-hot idea also covers hot, spicy food such as chicken wings, which are often billed as nuclear or atomic. In any season, people love to exaggerate.
Sultry weather is humid, sweaty, hot, oppressive, and should be against the Geneva Conventions. Shakespeare used this term in Hamlet, speaking of the wind: "…methinks it is very sultry and hot for my complexion." This term is also used for steaminess of a different sort. If an actress in a movie shoots someone a come-hither look that suggests she might be interested in activities you can learn about in health class, that look can be described as sultry. Sultry is a variation of the older word sweltry.
Speaking of sweltry, here's another survivor from its lexical family. Since the 1600s, sweltering has been a word for excessive heat. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as, "Oppressive or overpowering with great heat; causing or accompanied by profuse sweating or suffocation through extreme heat." That's right: sweltering heat is so bad you might not even be able to breathe, literally. Sweltering isn't swell.
This was originally a word for a torch, back around the year 1000. From there, it spread to many senses related to flames, such as bright light and intense heat. If the temperature is 100 degrees, that's blazing weather. This term has also been a bit of a euphemism for words related to hell, which has been a no-no to mention at some points in history. The expressions "Like blazes!" and "Go to blazes!" make more sense when you substitute the domain of Satan.
This refers to countries around the Earth's equator: the tropics. These areas, far from the chilly North and South poles, have the opposite weather: hot and steamy. This is why tropical nations such as Jamaica and the Bahamas are popular vacation spots, and it's also why tropical is a synonym for hot weather. Tropical countries—such as Vietnam, Guinea, and Puerto Rico—are near the world's equator with similarly hot climates. If you go to any of these countries, don't bother packing your ear muffs.
One of the most annoying summer phrases—along with "Hot enough for ya?"—is "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." When humidity is high, the weather is humid. High humidity means there's a lot of moisture in the air, and when humidity reaches 100%, Mother Nature makes it rain.
Humid is a fine word but sounds a tad like something a weatherperson might say. A more casual term is muggy. This term has been around since at least the 1700s. Another word used for humid or muggy weather is sticky, in reference to the sweat-soaked shirts and other garments that can make summer so uncomfortable. It's one thing to be sweaty after playing basketball or ripping phone books. It's another thing to be drenched in sweat just standing there, because of monumental mugginess.
This word usually refers to tyrannical governments that crush their people's spirits. Anything oppressive pushes down from above, which may explain why people often describe the heat as oppressive when the sun feels like the enemy, because it's just so flippin' hot. If the heat is oppressive, it's wearing down your body and spirit. Seek an air conditioner immediately.
Don't let the oppressive, muggy, sultry weather get to you, folks. In a few short months, we'll all be complaining about the opposite, so let's appreciate the blazing oppression while we can.
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
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