Another decade gone and a new one flapping ahead with less sequins than a hundred years ago means it’s an opportune time to riff on the meaning of “torrid”. Like I’ve said before, it’s an amazing word that people seem happy to attribute new meanings to. It started out humbly describing extremely hot environments found, not surprisingly, in the middle of the earth’s girth. It was primary school in subtropical Brisbane when I first learnt about the various regions of our globe – there were three in all and three repeats. The very top and bottom bands were Frigid Zones. The next two slices below and above these were the Temperate Zones and the final two sections were conjoined twins sitting either side of the equator, engulfing the poor thing and known as- cue trumpet blast, drum roll and triangle clang… the Torrid Zone. Almost needs an earthquake shake doesn’t it?
A fair part of Australia sits in the Torrid Zone- actually forty per cent of it even though it’s a sparsely populated area (home to only four percent of the population) – and known colloquially as the top end. That being said and being born and bred here, no wonder I identified with it and still do. But back to the dictionary meaning, which originally had this:
Adjective: late 16th century: from French torride or Latin torridus, from torrere ‘parch, scorch’.
And a bit later, say 1911 to be exact there’s this:
Adjective: (Of land etc.) Parched by the sun, very hot; ~zone, part of the earth’s surface between the tropics. Hence torrid-ity and torrid-ness.
And now this from the cracking NBN speed, online dictionary:
Adjective: 1. very hot and dry: the torrid heat of the afternoon.
2. full of passion arising from sexual love: a torrid love affair.
3. British full of difficulty: he’d been given a pretty torrid time by the nation’s voters.
4. US (especially in financial contexts) characterised by intense activity; hard to contain or stop: the world’s most torrid economies.
The latest version comes replete with a small bonus – the adverb “Torridly”. Oooh can’t wait to use that.
And my take? Somewhere along the way and I’m not pointing fingers, but the word hot is to blame. Why hot? Because hot used to mean heat as in temperature, as in a bit sweaty, as in “more than warm”. Now if someone or something is considered “hot” the implied meaning is that they’re a bit of alright or they’re “up for it”. So you can see how torrid has been dragged into it, kicking and screaming simply because its primary meaning is hot/heat/scorch/parch. In my book and it’s a slim volume, I take it to mean simply that it’s bloody hot. Put the fan on. Enough said.