Headbloom Blog

Hot Under the Collar: The Language of Emotion

In North America, the hottest days come in July and August. Dallas, TX, for example, set a new heat record this summer with more than 30 consecutive days over 100°F. As we get hotter and grumpier, one question seems to arise: “Does hot weather increase crime rates?”

Science writer for Wired magazine, Brandon Keim recently published an article called, “The Hazy Science of Hot Weather and Violence.” He talked about the connection between hot weather and increases in criminal acts in an interview with NPR’s Tony Cox. Keim’s research showed at least two connections for this increase.

First, there is the access issue. As weather gets warmer, more people leave their homes and go outside. Increased contact, socializing, and drinking make for increased opportunities for people to do stupid (and illegal) things.

The second issue is biological. That is, as our bodies get hotter, we become more uncomfortable and less patient. According to Keim, this aspect has been tested in laboratory studies. When test subjects got hot, they began to condone bad behavior more, including violence. A normally neutral facial expression will, for example, be interpreted by a hot person as hostile.

For me, this second aspect is most interesting because we have language to express this very concept. The following English expressions all use references to heat, fire, or cooking in order to convey meanings of anger. How many do you already know?

Expressions of Anger

  • tempers flare = people got mad
  • boiling mad = very upset
  • angers simmer = anger levels are rising, nearing a “boil-over point”
  • hot-tempered or hot-headed = the trait of being quick to anger
  • heated conversation = angry conversation
  • doing a slow boil = slowly increasing one’s amount of anger
  • in the heat of the moment = during an angry/emotional point in an event
  • (internet) flaming = using angry language to criticize or offend others online
  • hot under the collar = be angry
  • burns me up = makes me mad
  • emotions boiled over = participants got angry
  • get steamed (up) = become angry
  • inflamed the conversation = made the conversation more hostile
  • stewing = getting angrier [= cooking on the stove]

On the opposite side of the thermometer, English uses contrasting expressions to convey ways to become calm, to lessen one’s anger. These may be familiar to you. Why is this list of colloquial expressions much shorter than the above? Could it be because the topic of anger is more interesting, more colorful?

Expressions of Diminished Anger

  • cool down = take time to lower volatile feelings
  • chill out = relax, don’t be upset
  • keep your cool = don’t let negative emotions control your behavior



Alan Headbloom