It’s that season when the Celsius sits incessantly at unnecessarily insufficient celsitude. But in compensation we raise our spirits – well chilled as they may be – to much more suitable celsitude. And as the last year represented in many ways for many people a nadir, now that we have sung our gloria in excelsis, there is no direction to go but up, excelsior! And may we excel and accelerate.
What is celsitude? Height. And highness. It comes from Latin celsus, ‘lofty, high, sublime’. That root shows up also in excelsis, excelsior, and excel, but not accelerate (that comes from celer ‘fast, swift’ – which, by the way, is not related to celery). We don’t use celsitude much anymore (if we ever really did), and when we do, Oxford tells me, it is mainly for jokey effect. But why not have an attitude of excelling in the highest? No need to sit secluded. Take to the air, rise to the empyrean. To celsitude!
Where, we may hope, it will be warmer than it is now. In Toronto, where I live, the current forecast doesn’t see us crossing above zero for a fortnight at least. One easy hack for that would be to reverse the temperature scale: make freezing 100 and boiling 0. Then we would at least cool ourselves with lower numbers as it got hotter and warm ourselves with higher numbers as it got colder, so that no matter which way it went, something would be getting celsius.
Celsius? That’s the Latin neuter of celsior, ‘higher’. A family in Sweden were named for their estate on a hill and, in the 1600s, Latinized their name to Celsius. The family counted several noted scientists among its generations, and one of them was Anders Celsius, born in 1701, who determined that water freezes at the same temperature everywhere but boils at slightly different temperatures depending on air pressure. He set a temperature scale, which he called centigrade (from the Latin for ‘hundred steps’), that assigned 100 degrees to the freezing point of water and 0 degrees to its boiling point at 1 atmosphere of air pressure. Yes, you read that right: freezing at 100 and boiling at 0. After his death that was reversed, and the scale was renamed in his honour, so that now in Celsius celsius means celsius: its celsitude is unequivocal.
Well, here’s to a year of greater celsitude, and not just in Celsius. Excelsior!