It’s Cold.

The cold weather has been brutal. The other morning I looked at my phone to see what the temperature was and it just said, “You don’t want to know.” When I checked back later it was negative one, and that’s Fahrenheit. I went to an online calculator to see what that converted to in Celsius and it just said, “You don’t want to know.” I know I could do the math myself since my eighth grade math teacher gave me the formula for converting temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius, and after working really hard to understand it and practicing several times I said, yeah, I’ll just look at the basement thermometer that has Fahrenheit on one side and Celsius on the other, although the only number I really remember is negative forty, which is the same on both scales and also happens to be the freezing point of mercury. I also discovered the big freezer we kept in the basement would never get that low no matter how far I turned the knob in the back, and also that if you spill a bottle of liquid mercury in the freezer you might as well just buy a new freezer, but that’s another story.

I know we in the US should switch to the Celsius scale since it’s the one most of the world uses, and also it would help me when I’m talking to, say, a friend in Australia, and they say, “Crikey, it’s forty degrees here, I might take a dip in the billabong then crack open a tube of the amber fluid,” and I say, “Would you mind switching to English?” But I also get the appeal of the Fahrenheit scale. I think it’s a psychological thing. What most people consider a comfortable temperature is around seventy degrees Fahrenheit, or about twenty-one degrees Celsius. That’s a forty-nine degree difference and more is always better, even if the two numbers mean the same thing.

For me there’s also something I can only call nomenclatural synesthesia. The name “Fahrenheit” just sounds warmer to me, and I’d always rather be warmer, especially when it’s really cold out. I hear the name “Fahrenheit” and I picture a big, round-faced laughing guy with a curly copper-colored mustache wearing lederhosen and holding a big tankard of foamy amber fluid. I know that’s not what he looked like but it’s hard to shake that since I never met him, and I can’t explain it but everything about that image just exudes warmth. I’ll take the warmth, even when the temperature hits a hundred degrees—Fahrenheit, that is, because if it hit a hundred degrees Celsius we’d all be dead.

And speaking of Celsius, who seems to have been a much more modest guy since he named his scale “centigrade” but it’s been relabled with his name because Sweden needed something to be proud of other than ABBA, when I hear the name “Celsius” I think of a pale, skinny guy with bluish skin and lanky white locks, which is sort of what he looked like—aside from a relatively normal complexion, at least in his portraits. The term “Celsius” with its repeated sibilants just sounds cold to me.

I’m willing to accept a compromise, though: we could all switch to the Kelvin scale. It’s the same as Celsius but instead of zero being the freezing point of water it starts at absolute zero, which is negative 273.15 on the Celsius scale, the lowest temperature matter can reach. Think of how optimistic that is: once you reach zero on the Kelvin scale the only place you can go is up, even if once you’ve reached that point you’re dead. The problem with the Kelvin scale is the name. If Fahrenheit is Sargeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes and Celsius is Snow Miser from The Year Without A Santa Claus the name “Kelvin” just conjures up a Dickensian villain who stuffs children in sacks and throws them in the Thames. In winter. We’d have to come up with another name.

Maybe the Australians can recommend something.

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    Chris, I give this post a 100, Koplow scale.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I think the Koplow scale is definitely one that needs to be more widely adopted.


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