I wonder if someone with an Oxford English Dictionary could help me out on the etymology of “temperature”, and the use of the adjective “high” to mean a hot temperature. Why do we say high temperature? In my dictionary, the words “hot” and “cold” have Indo-European roots (kai- and gel- respectively). This shows these are ancient words. I think languages without these words would be very rare. (My best guess for languages without “cold” would be native Australian languages. There are few high mountains in Aus.)
The English word “temperature” appears to be more recent. My dictionary says the etymology is: ME temperate weather < Lat. temperatura, due measure < temperatus, p. part of temperare, to mix. So it looks like the use of “temperature” to mean ‘degree of hotness or coldness of a body as measured by a standard scale’ might date to the invention of thermometers. Is this so? How about the use of “high” temp. to mean “hot”?
I should probably wait to get dates for the above two questions, but rather than do that, I will put down my speculations. Some may be silly based on the true date of the use of “high temperature”.
Well, what else besides high and low? Some other possible antonym pairs: big/small, light/dark, strong/weak, heavy/light, good/bad, deep/shallow. It seems to me that pre-scientific people knew this about hot things: Hot things can burn you. Smoke from fire rises up into the air. Mountains are colder than sea-level
elevations (usually). Hot stones can come up out of the Earth. Hot things emit light. Fire consumes wood.
I can’t do much with that last one. Using the first concept, you could call hot temperatures “painful”, but English does not have a good antonym to painful. Do other languages? The fact that coals glow might lead us to call hot temperatures bright, and cold ones dark. The fact that mountains are cold, and that deep mines and the place where lava is supplied to volcanos might lead to calling hot temperatures low, or deep, and cold temperatures high or shallow. This is the reverse of current usage. Smoke from fires seems to support hot=high. Good and bad are too situational to apply to hot and cold. Extremes of hot or too cold can be bad.
Though “high” could be more recent, I know the thermometer was invented long before the kinetic theory of gasses, so “high” predates ‘large average velocity of the particles’. Perhaps Fahrenheit’s thermometer would only work if it was standing upright, and thus the higher up the tube the fluid went, the hotter the temp.?