Origin of the word "LUKEWARM"

Once upon a time, Granny and I were playing a game of Scrabble. We’re by far the two most intelligent people in our family, as we both read The Straight Dope religiously.

Anyway, Granny played the letters “luke” on my “warm” to form “lukewarm”. I’m sure most of you know the meaning of this word (if not, it means tepid, or room temperature), but what we’re after is the word’s origin.

I think it’s a newer word, but Granny says she used to hear it all the time when she was a girl and swears it has some sort of religious meaning.

So, I ask you, what’s the Straight Dope on the word “lukewarm”?

My dictionary says it comes from the Low German word “luk” meaning tepid.

The word is old indeed. Quoth www.m-w.com:

(my emphasis). Some more pointers:


First, thank you so much for posting this question. Every time I hear the word Lukewarm I want to write it down and ask the intelligent souls here What’s it All About.

I always thought (now bear in mind I failed religion in a Catholic School for many years) that Lukewarm had something to do with Luke. Matthew Mark Luke and John…you know, those guys.The original Fab Four. Being the non religious heathen barbarian that I am, I erroneously thought that maybe during the whole “Should we turn him in cause we’re harboring a fugitive” Last Supper scene there was a vote. Everyone but one was cold to the idea…except Luke, he was warming up…yeah,…it’s a terrible conclusion with lots of irrational thinking. I’m going to go to hell for certain.

Now I know the rest of the story, and frankly, it’s not as colorful and completely wrong as mine. :frowning:

Supplementing Holg’s reference, Eric Partridge’s book ORIGINS says:

Lukewarm is a senseless elaboration of the now dialect luke and probably distorts lew, from Old English hleow akin to Old English hleo, a shelter. In a shelter, one is warm; warmth connotes shelter. Luke, with Middle English lewk, has perhaps been influeced by the Dutch leuk, cool, dry, snug.

Shirley, I think your version is probably off a bit… perhaps, at the Last Supper, Mark and Matthew wanted their soup steaming hot, but Luke wanted his less so?

Waiter at the last supper:

“Okay, that’s eight chicken specials, four French Onion soups, and one Gazpatcho?”

The “religious significance” is probably a vague memory of the letter to Laodicea in Revelations, in which God reproaches the Laodicean Christians as “lukewarm”.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams