Cold, cool, chilly, frigid, freezing, frosty, gelid, icy, glacial, arctic mean having a temperature below that which is normal or comfortable.
Cold is the general term, often implying nothing more than a lack of warmth. It may also connote discomfort. (see also: Suffer from a cold vs Suffer from the cold)
Cool suggests moderate and often refreshing coldness, but when hotness or warmth is desirable it, too, connotes something disagreeable. (see also: Cool vs Composed vs Collected vs Unruffled vs Imperturbable vs Unflappable vs Nonchalant)
Chilly implies coldness that makes one shiver.
Frigid, freezing, and frosty imply temperatures below 32° Fahrenheit.
Frigid stresses the intensity of the cold and freezing its congealing effect (as on man, vegetation, and water) while frosty applies rather specifically to times or conditions in which fine ice crystals are deposited from atmospheric moisture onto a cold surface.
Gelid is equivalent to freezing, but it somewhat more often stresses the resultant discomfort.
Icy, when used to indicate a kind of coldness, implies frigidity so great as to be painful and cutting; it is applicable chiefly to winds, storms, and water.
Basically glacial is very close to icy, but its later association with glacier has given it an ambiguous cast in many locutions; thus, a glacial lake might be, according to context, either a painfully cold lake or one formed by the action of a glacier.
Arctic is the strongest of these words in its suggestion of intense coldness. It connotes the frigidity of the polar regions and is usually a hyperbolic rather than an exact term.
When applied to persons, their temperaments, their acts and words, and their responses to stimuli, these words are also marked by differences in implications.
Cold suggests absence of feeling or emotion, or less than normal human sympathy, friendliness, sensitiveness, or responsiveness.
Cool (see also COOL 2) stresses control over one’s feelings or emotions, and therefore absence of excitement or agitation.
Chilly, frosty, and freezing usually stress the effect of another’s coldness: chilly connotes a depressing or repressive influence while frosty connotes a checking or restraining of advances and freezing connotes a blighting or repelling.
Frigid suggests such a deficiency of natural feeling as is abnormal or repellent; it is specifically applicable to persons who are sexually passionless and averse to sexual intercourse, but it is often applied to things which are not, but by their nature should be, impassioned or infused with feeling or warmth.
Glacial suggests a chilling lack of vitality or animation.
Arctic frequently adds to frigid a connotation of remoteness from all that is human or referable to humanity.