It is the deep midwinter, somewhere between Chilliwack and Halifax. A bucolic, nay sylvan, logophile is out hewing wood to warm his hearth – mainly by pulping it and making paper, so he can read books made with it, which warm the heart so much longer than a simply incendiary log. But as he surveyeth his piles of literature, chill axe in hand, our logophile – let us call him Alan – spieth a grating neologism, a forced blending of two words that, in colloquial use, mean the same thing. Alan knoweth what to do with gilded lilies: cut them down. He raiseth his weapon, when the very word crieth itself out from the page: Chillax! Chillax to the max!
But we are in medias res. Let us commence ab ovo (Horace be damned). In the beginning was the word, and the word was cool. From the very beginning, cool readily transferred its literal sense to an emotional one; various uses developed – cool out by the mid-19th century, and cool it by the mid-20th. But by the later 1970s, a need for something newer-sounding (and perhaps more specifically African-American-sounding, for those who like to emulate such usage) was needed, and so chill and chill out became current.
But, ah, chill, though it does seem to shiver as one says it, is not truly as relaxed a word as the easy cool, and it can be a bit abrupt. One needs something that can draw out into a dénouement. What word is a relaxing word? Well, relax, for one. Its power of relaxation is such that its sound is borrowed into brand names of laxatives – for instance, Dulcolax, the very sound of which is enough to loosen the bowels. Relax has not one but two liquids, /r/ and /l/, and that nice open /æ/ that ends with the released hiss of /ks/. This, surely, is the sound suited to add to chill – first the frisson, and then the ease. And so, by the mid-1990s, chillax was easing the shoulders and innards of the same set as would soon enough be wearing sweatxedos in which to do their chillaxing. And undoubtedly it was created consciously to be trendy. It appears to have succeeded.
It may seem ironic that this word is used principally as an imperative – a verbal mood so unrelaxed that in German it is compulsory to punctuate it with an exclamation mark. But sometimes one simply needs to be told, no? It is also an interesting contrast that the word’s appearance looks very excited: the hill in the middle looks like horripilation, and the x could be the pucker of a mouth, clashing swords, cuts in wood or skin, or, well, yes, perhaps closed eyes.
But, ah, this word, what she has in euphony and semantic double dipping she lacks in elegance. For one can never chillax in elegance – can one? “Alan, old sport, verily thou chillaxest most thoroughly upon my divan. Wishest thou a tankard of chill ale, or perhaps a white Russian, to enhance thy chillaxation?” But doth the dude abide, or doth he dispatch with quick whacks the churlish lexis?
Thanks to Alan Yoshioka for sending me his vexation with chillaxation.