Many other words normally associated with temperature will not unambiguously perform the same function. For example "smoking hot," "blazing hot," "fiery hot," "flaming hot," and "burning hot" all could be used to describe spiciness. "Piping hot," however, refers exclusively to temperature. (AmE)

I am confused with using the word hot in the phrases above. What does it mean here?


In the examples you've given, hot can mean two things. The first meaning is something with a high temperature. For example, "The days are hot in summer." The second meaning is spicy. For example, "Habanero peppers are hot!"

In the paragraph you shared, you would need to see the first 5 phrases in a sentence to know whether the person was talking about temperature or spiciness. For example:

It's blazing hot out there. The thermometer says 43C! -or- Be careful when you try the salsa. It is blazing hot!

Unlike the others, the phrase "piping hot" is only used to describe something's temperature. In fact, we only use it to describe the temperature of a liquid or food. It means something that has reached the boiling point. For example:

The coffee is piping hot.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    There is a third meaning of hot: popular or attractive. I don't think all adverbs combine with hot in that meaning, but "smoking hot" can definitely be used to indicate a person is viewed as extremely (physically) attractive. An example for the popular meaning can be the new iPhone is definitely a hot item this Xmas! (And I am leaving out slang as in hot = stolen) – oerkelens Dec 2 '14 at 15:02
  • Yes, very true! I think "smoking hot" is the only phrase in the example that you could use in that way, though. The others would not have the same effect. – michelle Dec 2 '14 at 15:04
  • @oerkelens - Even more meanings than that. Collins lists more than a dozen: a hot tip, a hot streak, a hot situation, etc. (Not all those meanings work with leading adjectives like smokin', blazing, or steaming, though.) – J.R. Dec 2 '14 at 17:25
  • Good point. Clarified that I'm only covering the meanings of hot that are suggested by the phrases in the original post. Thanks! – michelle Dec 2 '14 at 18:03

This excerpt is saying that the first five terms (the five beginning with smoking hot) can refer to food that is either spicy-hot (naturally hot, or hot because it has spices added to it) or to food that is temperature hot. But the term piping hot only refers to food that is temperature hot or 'hot out of the oven'.

I don't happen to agree with that statement, but as you can see, there is much discussion about the various phrases, with little consensus. Around the dinner table we will continue to say:

A: Wow, this food is hot!
B: Um, do you mean spicy-hot or hot-hot?

Person A will then pick one, or she could say she means both.

In all the vast vocabulary of English, we prefer to stick to one word, hot, to refer to both types of food. Well, at least it adds the occasional diversion to a meal.

You might be interested, if you haven't found them already, in these discussions on EL&U

How to say that food is hot (temperature) without the listener thinking that I mean “spicy”?

Difference between “spicy” and “hot”

I read the first one yesterday after I read your other question.

Compounding the issue, for some, is that spicy does not, or should not, even mean food that is naturally hot (or hot because certain spices have been added to it), because not all spices and/or herbs are hot (examples include cumin, cinnamon, mint, basil, oregano, garlic...there are dozens and dozens).

| improve this answer | |
  • Cinnamon can certainly be considered hot. – oerkelens Dec 2 '14 at 15:46
  • Thanks. And my last question up to now: what is the differenec between hot-hot and spicy-hot? – nima Dec 2 '14 at 16:07
  • 1
    @nima: The difference is that hot = high temperature is the original, literal "core" sense of the word, whereas hot = spicy is a metaphoric extension (to your taste-buds, the sensation caused by capsaicinoids is similar to that of high temperature). It's because native speakers know which is the original sense that hot-hot will invariably be understood as hot in its "core sense" meaning. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 2 '14 at 17:13
  • @oerkelens That's subjective. My friend doesn't think jalapeños are hot. – user6951 Dec 2 '14 at 20:07

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.