Saturday, September 30, 2017

ELL vocabulary - temperature

Temperature means how hot or cold something is, but the OED definition is extensive:
  • The state of a substance or body with regard to sensible warmth or coldness, referred to some standard of comparison; spec. that quality or condition of a body which in degree varies directly with the amount of heat contained in the body, and inversely with its heat-capacity; commonly manifested by its imparting heat to, or receiving it from, contiguous bodies, and usually measured by means of a thermometer or similar instrument. (Now the ordinary sense.)
Sometimes--today--the OED gets hyperactive.  My Apple computer gives this simpler definition of temperature:

  • the degree or intensity of heat present in a substance or object, especially as expressed according to a comparative scale and shown by a thermometer or perceived by touch.

The source of the word is interesting and complicated, having to do with the sense of hot and cold being mixed, or tempered, but what concerns us today is the pronunciation of the word.  You don't pronounce it as you read it.  It's not temp-er-a-ture; it's temp-pra-ture.  (Like comfortable, which is not com-fort-a-ble, but com-fter-ble.)  Three syllables.

You might ask a friend, about the weather:

"It's hot.  What's the exact temperature?"

Or, if you're feeling scientific, you might say, 

"Water boils at the temperature of 100 degrees Centigrade."

Or you might tell a sick child, 

"You have a fever.  Your temperature is 101 degrees Fahrenheit."

(Yes, I know; the United States is one of the last places on Earth to use the old, Imperial measurements.  We use Fahrenheit as opposed to Celsius or Centigrade, used by most of the rest of the civilized world.)  I think I remember that the Fahrenheit scale tries to put 0 degrees at the freezing point of salt water (that's way off; it's more like 28 degrees F) and 100 degrees at human body temperature (human body temperature is 98.6 degrees F.)  

Celsius is more rational.  Zero degrees is the freezing point of fresh water, while 100 degrees is the boiling point of fresh water.  Boom.

Kids having their temperature taken today have it easy.  Those digital thermometers register a temperature in a few seconds.  When I was a boy, mercury thermometers were used.  They looked like this.

Old-fashioned, mercury-based oral thermometer.
You had to hold them in your mouth for three to five minutes, which was hard if you had a stuffy nose.  Worse, my mom liked to use the rectal thermometer, which went into your bum.  She used Vaseline to get the thermometer in there, but it still felt uncomfortable and invasive.  Why my mother used rectal thermometers instead of the (much more common) oral thermometers is a lively topic among my brothers and me.  She claimed it was more accurate.  We didn't always believe her.

It turns out she was right.  A 2011 study of about 500 adults in the Emergency Department found that oral thermometers are inaccurate by over one degree:

The oral and tympanic temperature readings are not equivalent to rectal thermometry readings. Oral thermometry frequently underestimates the temperature relative to rectal readings, and [ear] values can either under- or overestimate the rectal temperature. The clinician needs to be aware of the varying relationship between oral, [ear], and rectal temperatures when interpreting readings.  

(Barnett et al.  Oral and Tympanic Membrane Temperatures Are Inaccurate to Identify Fever in Emergency Department Adults.  West J . 2011 Nov; 12(4): 505-511.  doi:  10.5811/westjem.2011.2.1963)
But this isn't the only debate about temperature.

  • There is an argument about whether the temperature of the Earth is increasing, a process scientists called "global warming," which was renamed by politicians to the easier-to-swallow phrase "climate change"
  • Some people believe that heat is good for muscle strains and cramps, while others prefer cold
  • If you sleep in the same bed or in the same room as someone else, you know that the temperature that makes you feel just right will often be impossibly hot or intolerably cold to the other person

So what about you?  Which do you prefer, a sizzling summer day or a bitter cold winter day?  Would you rather have to use your air-conditioning or your heat?  Do you run warm-blooded or cold-blooded?  Let me know in the space below.
English Avocado

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