Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can discover.
We’re nearing the end of summer, but before we give it a proper send-off in mid-September, let’s take a look at a few idioms involving summertime.
Boys of Summer. Who are these “boys of summer”? I heard about them in the 1984 song “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley. But the saying was originally a reference to the
Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team and their pursuit of the pennant up to their victory in 1955. Roger Kahn wrote his nonfiction book, The Boys of Summer, about his hometown team through his childhood and then years a New York reporter. In it, he chronicled the team’s players. Even further back, however, the phrase comes from a 1939 Dylan Thomas poem:
I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren,
Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils;
There in their heat the winter floods
Of frozen loves they fetch their girls,
And drown the cargoed apples in their tides. . . .
Days of Summer. Sometimes these are just called the “Dog Days.” Ancient Romans noted that the hottest days of the year (late July/early August) coincided with the appearance of Sirius, the Dog Star, and thus believed that the star contributed to the heat of the day. Therefore, these hot summer days became known as the dog days.
Indian Summer. The first recorded instance of “Indian summer” is from 1778, in Letters from an American Farmer, written by a French-American soldier turned farmer:
“Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow; though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.”
This phrase refers to the weather occurrence of a heat wave following an initial cold period or frost in the autumn. (Here in South Texas, it just seems to mean that the hot temperature is hanging on longer than it should, and we’re all begging for a little cool relief.)
Why this is described as an “Indian” summer is not entirely certain, although the timing of the phrase’s origin coincides with the settling of the American colonies. The suspicion is that the settlers noticed this unseasonably warm time, usually in October and November, to be the period that Native Americans finished harvesting their crops. Perhaps this is the reason that it has been called “Indian Summer.”
However, this phrase is not particularly P.C. now. “Native American Summer” is a little long, and previous phrases for this autumn heat wave apparently included the also-politically-incorrect “Old Wives’ Summer.” Maybe we need to rethink this one altogether.
Did you know the origins of these idioms? What other summer sayings do you know?