It took a while for summer weather to really take hold for us this year in West Virginia…but man, it’s been full force in August! Heat and humidity all around–which we frequently describe as balmy. Which, as it turns out, probably isn’t actually a good word for it, LOL.
Balmy, in the sense mentioned above, should actually mean “mild, temperate.” It comes, after all, from balm, which is of course soothing. It had that meaning since the 1600s. But before that, it actually referred to another quality of balm–the fact that it’s scented. I had no idea that balmy originally meant “fragrant”! Did you? By the 1700s, in fact, it had combined the two to mean “mild, fragrant.”
But then an interesting meaning came along that I’ve never even heard of. It began to mean “weak-minded, idiotic, someone characterized by odd behavior.” Now, you may be going “Whaaaaaat?” like I was. That meaning came along in the 1850s…and was most likely a result of confusion. The word that actually meant that was barmy. Barm is the foam that rises to the top of some alcoholic beverages during the brewing process, which was believed to cause such odd behavior. Barmy, then, makes sense. But apparently, it was confused with balmy often enough in speech that the meaning got borrowed.
What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods right now?