Why is it that when we feel that someone does not welcome us, they are giving us the cold shoulder, or being cool towards us? How come someone who is kind is warm-hearted? Look at where the English language evolved- in England, it is cold almost all the time. The climate is known for being damp, dreary, drizzly and depressing. The few sunny days are welcomed by the natives with open arms. Thus low temperatures are associated with general discomfort, while high temperatures are feted and enjoyed to the fullest. This is my educated guess about the evolution of the metaphors.
Let’s move now to sunny Singapore. What does the sun mean to us? Heat, yes, but too much of it. And don’t even get me started on the sweat that turns you into a damp mess the moment you step out of the house. Night brings little respite. The sweat that is held back for a few moments by a lukewarm shower returns with a vengeance while we sleep. And what does cold mean to us? Relief! Stepping into an air-conditioned room makes us feel like we are in heaven after suffering the fires of hell.
How does this affect the way we use the language? In English, you generally say “I got into bed”. But here in Singapore, we modify it slightly, and many people say instead “I lay on the bed”. It is the same with many of the other languages in this region. Why? Well, when it is cold, you burrow under the covers and it is like you are in a warm space that you have created with multiple bedsheets and blankets. But when it is warm, you lie flat on the bed, with nothing impeding the flow of air.
Why then do we continue to use the “cold shoulder” and “warm hearted” types of phrases? I suppose that is because they are now conventional metaphors that we don’t really connect with their source. They have been imbued with their own meaning and we use them in that way.
Let’s take another example: everyone now knows that the sun does not rise or set. It stays where it is. It is the earth that is moving. Yet we still talk about the rising and setting sun. Again, it is because we have become accustomed with the conventions of usage, and no longer relate the phrases with their source ideas. Enough time has passed for cumulative cultural legitimacy to be bestowed upon the phrases, and so they continue to be used, despite the common knowledge that the source idea has been displaced.
A metaphorical phrase may arise in a certain context, but if it is a powerful one that people find satisfying and use frequently, even when the context changes, the phrase lives on.