I have heard the following sentence in an interview summary in https://enseigner.tv5monde.com/fiches-pedagogiques-fle/quel-monde-voulons-nous :

Alors que les inégalités se multiplient, que la terre se réchauffe et que les grands de ce monde sont incapables de s’accorder sur les solutions avancées par les scientifiques, l’ONU fête son 75e anniversaire ...

My understanding is that "chauffer" means "to warm up" and "réchauffer" means "to warm up again". However, there is no implied repetition of "warming up" in the sentence above, so why is "se réchauffer" used instead of "se chauffer"?

  • Why is "se réchauffer" used instead of "se chauffer"?

Using se chauffer would more imply some sort of intentional heating method:

Mes voisins se chauffent au fioul.

Should you want to express that the planet temperature is rising, the verb échauffer would be more appropriate than chauffer:

La terre s'échauffe sous l'effet des gaz à effet de serre.

On the other hand, réchauffer expresses the same planet temperature rise, but it also implies a reversal: before that rise, there was a drop. I agree with Maroon that the fluctuating nature of climate favors the use of this verb, which is the most usual in this context of global warming.

Consistency might also play a role because there is no other verb/word than se refroidir / refroidissement to express the opposite (cooling).

There is no *chauffement nor *froidissement in French.

  • "Should you want to express that the planet temperature is rising, the verb échauffer would be more appropriate". Isn't that exactly the meaning of réchauffer in my example? – Alan Evangelista Sep 3 '20 at 11:32
  • A very close meaning, but not exactly the same. Se réchauffer suggests that the raising temperature period follows a dropping temperature period while s'échauffer doesn't presume anything about what happened before. – jlliagre Sep 3 '20 at 12:21
  • Thanks for making the distinction clear again, the theoretical difference is now clear to me. I assume that "se réchauffer" is more usual than "s'échauffer" in this context of global warming? – Alan Evangelista Sep 3 '20 at 12:33
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    Absolutely, s'échauffer is rare and often limited to specialized expressions like les esprits s'échauffent where se chauffent or se réchauffent wouldn't work at all. – jlliagre Sep 3 '20 at 12:40

Note that the correct term for "global warming" seems to be réchauffement climatique, although of course, changement climatique is also common. Already, we would expect réchauffer from that. My guess is that réchauffer is used because there is a natural cyclic warming and cooling cycle; some occasional warming is to be expected, but the current trends are concerning because the increases are unprecedented and are not part of the natural cycle.

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