On Memorial Day many people choose to chillax—a portmanteau word formed from chill and relax. Chillax is actually a bit redundant, since chill, or sometimes chill out, first used in the 1970s, by itself means to “calm down, relax, take it easy.”
The earliest citation of chill in that sense, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is 1979, in a hip-hop song called “Rapper’s Delight,” recorded by the Sugarhill Gang. A whole gang of what must be writers is credited with those lyrics—including Sylvia Robinson, Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike, Master Gee, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers, and Alan Hawkshaw, so it’s impossible to know who actually came up with the line “A time to break and a time to chill, To act civilized or act real ill.”
In 1983 Time Magazine ran a piece that observed, “It’d be nice to just chill out all the time and hunt and fish.”
By 1985, chill also meant to “hang out,” that is, to “spend time in idleness or non-specific activity, especially with other members of a group.”
A versatile word through the ages, chill derives from Old English ciele, which means “cold or coolness.” In the 16th century to chill meant to “lower the spirits or to make sad,” and by the 18th century, it was used to mean almost the opposite, to “quiver with excitement, to thrill.”
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is an old hand at chilling, especially when bottles and ice-chests are involved.
A hopped-up but happy hip-hopper
Took a sight-seeing ride on a chopper,
But while he was rapping,
The pilot was napping,
Which the hip-hopper thought was improper.
So the hip-hopper summoned a copper,
Who proved to be not a crime-stopper:
The cop thought it amusing
That the pilot was snoozing,
And the chopper soon came a cropper.
Now you may think this tale is a whopper,
But I heard from a trusted eavesdropper
That the pilot, the copper,
And the hapless hip-hopper
All met the fate of Big Bopper.