Among the multiple words that include the English language to refer to temperatures, Lukewarm is the most particular of all. It is a compound word between two words, one of which looks like a masculine name. It has in it the word “Warm”, but it is less warm than warm. Most of the time we use lukewarm is usually in a negative context. Several questions come to mind: How is it that a male name coupled with a temperature can create a term for a different temperature? Who came up with the idea of putting together these two words that seem to have no relationship with each other? 

Well, the truth is, they have a lot more relationship than you think. In fact, they are so related that some people think that this word is a pleonasm. (What is a pleonasm? Read on to find out. ) . However, it is not arbitrary, it has its raison d’être! And I’m going to prove it to you after making its definitions clear. But I don’t promise to answer all the questions, because no matter how much we investigate, it’s still a very odd word!

Dictionary Definition

Lukewarm: Adj. (Said of liquids) Barely or moderately warm. (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

Lukewarm: Adj. Not enthusiastic or interested. (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary)

I dare say that the word Lukewarm is used more often in its figurative sense than in its literal sense. Even so, it is found along with 30,000 other words that are “of occasional use” according to the Collins English Dictionary. 

But even if we use it occasionally, we must know how to use it well.

So let’s see some examples:

“Educators’ lukewarm response to ed tech highlights the need for professional development on any new technology educators are expected to use.”

From Education Dive website Article: Survey: Teachers remain lukewarm on ed tech’s impact on classrooms. 2019

How many times have you sat down at your desk with a nice hot cup of coffee only to be immediately called away to take care of something? Then when you finally get back to your desk, your coffee is lukewarm at best.”

From BGR website Article: Here’s a little $20 device that’ll keep your coffee hot all day long. 2019

The new Hellboy movie, starring Stranger Things’ David Harbour as the title character, opened this weekend to a lukewarm South African response. The movie didn’t manage to capture audiences on its opening weekend.”

From Glitched website Article: Hellboy Gets a Lukewarm Opening Weekend in South Africa. 2019

A word with many origins

The reason we ask ourselves so many questions about this word is that it has too many origins. It is an odd word because it is a crossbreed word. It is the product of a mixture of languages due to the coexistence of different cultures in the old English-speaking communities.

As the word Lukewarm first appeared in the 14th century, it is believed that one of its origins is the mixture of the word Lew + Warm. Lew is still used by the English. It was used even more regularly in Middle English with the same meaning: “tepid, slightly warm”. That word comes from the Old English adverb hlēowe which meant “warm or sunny”, and came from the Proto-Germanic *hlēwaz, the word for “warm”.

This is why many consider it a pleonasm, because according to its roots “Lukewarm” means “Warm-warm”. But apart from this incoherence, the theory has another gap, where did the “k” come from? How did Lew become Luke?

Lukewarm – Another Theory…

This leads us to a second theory that Lukewarm comes from the Middle Dutch Word Leuk, which meant “tepid, weak”, and which was also used individually by the English. But with the passage of time the word adopted a less formal meaning in Dutch. It began to mean “calm, relaxed”, and then “nice, fun”. Eventually it became indispensable for English speakers to clarify that it was used to refer to temperature. Thus, it was joined with the word Warm, resulting in “Lukewarm“.

And still a third theory…

But this still leaves us with “Lukewarm” as an exact synonym for “Tepid”, when it is clearly not so. That is why there is a third theory, raised to justify using “Lukewarm” as an even lower temperature than tepid and often unpleasant. Luke could arise from the Anglo-Saxon wlæc, which meant “weak”. Therefore, “Lukewarm” would mean “weak-warm”, a result much closer to the meaning we give today to the word.

Even so, the true origin of the word will remain a mystery. But despite its many possible origins, one thing I can assure you: it has never had anything to do with the name Luke! So if you know someone named Luke who usually shows a lukewarm attitude, it’s just a coincidence!

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