The Surprising Origin Of The Phrase Cool As A Cucumber

Cucumbers are famous for their cooling effects so much so that cucumber slices placed over the eyes are symbols of self-care and relaxation. According to Healthline, science backs up cucumber's healing reputation. Studies show that cucumbers can soothe and de-puff skin and act as a mild astringent against acne. In fact, people have enjoyed cucumbers throughout history for their refreshing taste and cool temperature, states the University of Missouri. It's no surprise that the idiom "cool as a cucumber" made its way into the English language.

Long before the phrase "cool as a cucumber" appeared, cucumbers had a fascinating and extensive historical presence. Cucumbers originally hail from India, and humans have been benefitting from them for over 3,000 years, according to findings from cave excavations (via University of Missouri). Cucumbers bounced around the ancient world from ancient Egypt to Greece and Rome providing refreshment from hot temperatures. Cucumbers even appear in the bible, so deep are their historical roots. Later, cucumbers appear in Charlemagne's gardens and on King Henry VIII's table. The word cucumber originated from the Latin "cucumis." The modern English word stems from "cowcumber," that was used as recently as of three hundred years ago, explains the University of Illinois.

Cucumbers' infamous cool

Cucumbers gained such historical popularity for their cool and refreshing properties. The crisp and moist vegetable (cucumbers are botanically considered a fruit but are deemed a culinary vegetable) has helped humans through the centuries beat the heat, per EUFIC. So much so that in the 17th century, to help soothe fevers, doctors lay patients on beds made of cucumbers to lower their temperatures, says the University of Missouri. Science supports the cucumber's cool reputation. The inside of a cucumber can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than its outside.

The phrase "cool as a cucumber" stems from the cucumber's unique ability to stay cool in the heat. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase means calm or not revealing one's emotions, especially in extreme or stressful situations. Dictionary suggests that just like the drastic temperature difference between a cucumber's inside and outside, the person described by the phrase is unmoved in the heat of the moment. Furthermore, Grammarist explains that the idiom hinges on the two meanings of the word cool: the temperature and calmness or emotional detachment.

Cool as a cucumber makes a poetic debut

According to Phrases, "cool as a cucumber" first appears in a poem by the English author John Gay in 1732. Much of Gay's work was satyrical. He was a member of the Scriblerus Club along with Johnathan Swift and Alexander Pope, which mocked the period's intellectual dogmatism, says Britannica.

"Cool as a cucumber" appears in Gay's poem titled "New Song on New Similes," where the narrator expresses most of their thoughts and feelings through simile. A simile is a phrase that compares one thing to another. For example, Gay's poem begins, "My passion is as mustard strong." Cucumbers appear toward the poem's end, expressing the narrator's angst regarding unreturned love. It reads, "Pert as a pear-monger I'd be, / If Molly were but kind; / Cool as a cucumber could see / The rest of womankind."

Among Gay's string of similes, "cool as a cucumber," took off as a popular phrase, while similes like "pert as a pear-monger" lost their relevance. John Gay, the poet who gave us "cool as a cucumber," is buried in Westminster Abbey next to Geoffrey Chaucer (per Britannica). During the hot summer months, to celebrate the cucumber's rich history and to cool off, try adding sliced cucumber to your water glass for a spa-like upgrade. According to Healthline, cucumber water could lower your blood pressure, so you too can embody both meanings of "cool" in "cool as a cucumber."