"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Indian summer

Unlike here, where our November is simply grey and wet at the moment, Deedee in Massachusetts has been experiencing an Indian summer. That got her to wondering where the phrase came from and I have taken the liberty of quoting her here:-

"I did a little research and found that its true origins may be lost in time. But there are some things we do know. In most parts of the northern hemisphere, there is a name for the warm weather that follows the hard frost. In Bulgaria, for example, it is known as the “Gypsy summer” or sometimes, “Gypsy Christmas” presumably because it makes outdoor living more bearable for those wandering folk. In Germany it’s known as the “Web summer”, because a certain type of spider weaves webs on the grass and Hungarians know it as the “Crone’s summer”, which refers to the medieval association with Halloween and witchcraft.

The oldest written reference to the term Indian summer was apparently in a letter written by a Frenchman, St. John de Crevecouer, in 1778. He describes, “…an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer; its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness”, referring to the common occurrence of haze in the warm meadows. But where do Indians fit it to the picture? Although no one seems to know for certain, it is suspected that many native peoples here in the United States had a habit of setting fire to the grasslands during this time of year. The smoke mingled with the haze, allowing them to be better able to sneak up on their prey when hunting. Other sources contend that northern tribes saw the warmth of the dry winds as a gift from the gods of the southwest desert; a reprisal of summer, just before the winter.”

Thank you Deedee – that was fascinating.

I also learned from my old diary researches that in former times in England it was called 'Saint Martin's Summer', referring to St Martin’s Day, November 11th, when it was supposed to end. In British English "St. Martin's Summer" was the most widely used term until the American phrase Indian Summer became better known in the 20th century.


1 comment:

  1. wow! Very interesting! Hard to imagine people setting fires to grasslands during that particular time of year because it is so very dry, but then we are not hunting wild animals these days either! I loved learning what it's called in other parts of the world.