Wood on Words: A look at some "hot" words.

In the 1959 comedy "Some Like It Hot," director Billy Wilder serves up several kinds of hot:


A gangland massacre at the start features plenty of hot lead; the perpetrators spend the rest of the film in hot pursuit of the heroes, who witnessed the slaughter; the heroes hide out as members of an "all-girl" band that plays hot music; and the band's lead singer is played by Marilyn Monroe in a variety of revealing costumes, steaming up the screen and Tony Curtis' glasses.


In fact, it's all so hot that it's also cool.


Cool customers also can be "hotshots." Cool fashions have included "hot pants" and "hot pink."


In the news business, a hot story is sometimes called a flash, but a "hot flash" is "a sensation of a wave of heat passing over the body."


The animal kingdom is divided into "warmblooded" and "coldblooded" creatures, but only humans are capable of being both — and "hotblooded" as well.


For us, the difference between coldblooded and hotblooded is reflected in the difference between murder (premeditated and coldly calculated) and crimes of passion that can be just as deadly.


People who are hotblooded are also prone to being "hotheaded" and "hot-tempered." When they get "hot under the collar," they can make it hot for everyone around them.


Food can be hot from the process of cooking or from the effects of spices — and sometimes both. However, "hot dogs," "hot cakes," "hot cross buns" and "hot pot" are more likely to be piping hot than spicy hot.


At a ballgame, hot dogs can be "selling like hot cakes" while players are hot-dogging it on the field. But nobody wants a "hot potato."


A "hot spring" is often a featured attraction at a spa, where people go to relax. Most of the time, though, we're extremely uncomfortable when we're in "hot water."


Another unpleasant place to be is a "hot spot," where trouble is almost certain to erupt, unless it's specifically referring to a popular nightclub. If it's a casino, you might even get on a "hot streak."


The worst hot spot is the "hot seat," which is literally an electric chair. Even figuratively, though, a hot seat is not for the timid.


"Hotbeds" and "hothouses" are places where plants flourish, but "any place that fosters rapid growth or extensive activity" can be called a "hotbed."


Souped-up cars are called "hot rods," but any vehicle can become "hot," as in stolen, if it can be "hot-wired."


In general, "hot wires" are those carrying electricity, especially when they're dangerously accessible. We also use "hot" to indicate radioactivity.


These two "hot" concepts came together when the electrical "Hot Line" was established between nuclear superpower capitals Washington and Moscow in an effort to keep the Cold War from becoming hot. That was a time when we all worried about national leaders who had a finger on the button.


That may be the ultimate "hot button," but the term normally is used for "an idea, subject, issue, etc. that evokes strong feelings." Not that fears of nuclear annihilation wouldn't qualify as "strong feelings."


Washington is a place also known for its abundance of "hot air," which seems to increase dramatically during election season.


So, to rephrase a popular icebreaker, "Is that enough 'hot' for you?" It is for me, so I'll just "hotfoot it" out of here.


Barry Wood is a senior copy editor for the Register Star. Contact him at bwood@rrstar.com or write to Wood on Words, Rockford Register Star, 99 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61104.