Being cold is such a big concern for humans that we have created the word “cold” with our languages to represent the concept. We all have a very clear idea of what is meant by cold. However, if you look into the science, you will find no such thing as cold; what the universe has instead is heat, or in the case of our winter, lack of it.

It would be nice to get the physics of heat straight before we start talking about how cold this winter has been or will be but that’s just not going to happen. The subject of heat is apparently too big to fit inside a head the size of my own and believe me I’ve tried to pump it in there. As fast as I take in information regarding latent heat, sensible heat and specific heat, along with thermodynamics, calories, joules, entropy and internal energy, the faster it passes through my brain unprocessed, leaking out somewhere into the ocean of unassimilated facts, which in my case is deep and very wide.

What we commonly know as heat is called “internal energy” by nit-picky scientists who use the word heat as a verb (yes, an “action” word) for the transfer of this internal energy from one object to another. This internal energy is actually the tiny vibration of molecules in an object. “Cold” is just our word for expressing the relative lack of this warmth in a body.

It’s the same with light. When there is none of it around we call it “dark” but there is no way to measure dark because there is only light that can be measured — or the lack of it. But let’s not get started on light, as it can make my head hurt even more than heat, especially in the morning after a raucous night with friends.

When we take a temperature, which is a measure of internal energy even in the coldest of places, we are not measuring the cold but only the little bit of heat that always exists wherever you are in this universe. Everything in the universe — except for the heart of a particular woman I knew in the ’70s — has a measure of heat.



But even in casual English the word “heat” is a complicated piece of work. Dictionary.com lists 25 definitions for the word and that’s during the weekend when many definitions take time off for family or religious reasons. In our everyday world it just worked out that it’s easier to say “I am so cold” instead of “I am so lacking heat and internal vibrational energy.” When our fingers are numb, our nose is running and stamping our feet produces no effect, cold seems very real indeed.

But alas, if there is no such thing as cold, it brings to light some terribly disturbing realizations. At the top of my list is that, sadly, there is no such thing as a cold beer. I know: I should run from this line of thinking on that last statement alone, but it’s hard for me to turn my back on truth. Tonight at the pub I may have to say, “Bartender, give me a beer that is less warm than the evening air or with about the same or less internal energy as frozen water,” but it just doesn’t have the proper ring.

Science aside, we’ve gone so far down the road talking about cold as if it were something real that we just can’t completely abandon the concept now. We desperately need to keep the concept of cold for social purposes. Where would we be without cold-brew coffee, cold calling, the cold case, cold fusion, Coldplay, cold cuts, Cold River Vodka, cold sores, cold turkey, the Cold War and, of course, cold pasta salad? Okay, we could do without cold sores, but if all these endearing concepts disappeared from our lexicon it would indeed be a cold day in hell, so to speak.

So now that we all understand that there is no such thing as cold, we can relax and stop blaming it for everything miserable from frozen pipes to broken bones. It’s really that pesky heat that’s to blame for all our winter trouble. Where is it when we need it? Hmm, I may have to travel south to find out. Perhaps I can float around in that warm ocean of unassimilated facts and learn a thing or two about heat. I’ll keep you posted.