“Second Summer”

What do you call the sunny, warm dry New England weather after the first hard frost in late October or early November? I have always called it Indian summer and it has always evoked warm feelings about the season. This week we are experiencing a perfect example as you can see by the thermometer on the left(warm for November 3) and the dead sunflower on the right(remnant of a hard frost.) In fact it has been so warm the last few nights that Charlie had to take the storm window back off our bedroom window and reinstall the screen. Once he did that our sleep improved immensely.

Being the language nerd that you may know me to be, I tried to trace the etymology of the phrase “Indian summer.” There are many speculations about it but no consensus. Despite this, the American Meteorological people have stopped using the phrase, believing it offensive, and have substituted the earlier name “second summer.” It saddened me to see that among the possible reasons for the name, the weather reporters have decided that it must be offensive, gravitating to explanations that reinforce negative stereotypes.

Heaven knows there are many relics in American usage that are racist, including many names for geographic features of the landscape. I have no trouble giving such places kinder names. But when I think of Indian summer I think of Indian corn on the table with Indian pudding for dessert. All three bring me warmth and joy. I am happy to change all three labels if counseled by someone who actually knows they are offensive. Until then, I will smile each fall when we are visited by that warm spell after the killing frost. Whatever it is called.

21 thoughts on ““Second Summer”

  1. We still call it an ‘Indian Summer’, and we had one in mid-October. I don’t think it is offensive, as the BBC still uses it, and they are very ‘precious’ about offending anyone.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. I love the idea of being precious about language. I am tired of people seemingly looking for reasons to be offended(on behalf of other people. I found no Native objection to the phrase when I searched.)

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      1. I am sure it relates to India, and not Native Americans. The long history of Britain colonising India no doubt originated the phrase in the 18th century. My dad was stationed in the Army in India from 1941-1947, and used the expression all the time.

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  2. It’s been warm here as well. I’ve had to start feeding the fish in the pond again as they’re up and swimming around. I could never find the origin of the phrase ‘Indian summer’ either, but so far nobody here has suggested banning it.

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  3. I can’t imagine that Indian summer would hold a negative connotation for most people. The script has flipped here in California as the weather has turned cold and rainy.

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  4. I also get weary of walking on eggshells, wondering what’s going to be considered offensive next. I can see the reasoning behind the Washington Redskins changing their name, but Indian summer and Indian corn seem innocuous to me.

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  5. You could, as we do here, say “haf bach Mihangel” (meaning a little summer from St Michael), which might manage to upset nobody. But then again someone might see some unintended slight .. ..

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