Happy first day of summer! How will you be estivating? We know what we’ll be doing: thinking about those summertime words. Here are some of our favorites.
“Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright, the longest day and the shortest night.” According to The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, this saying is from the mid-17th century and celebrates St. Barnabas’ Day — also called barnaby-bright and Barnaby-day — the feast day of the patron saint of Cyprus and Antioch, protector against hailstorms, and promoter of peace. Barnaby-bright was celebrated on June 11, once regarded as the longest day of the year.
Now we know the summer solstice is actually the longest day. Deemed the first day of summer, it cam occur on June 20, 21, or 22 in the northern hemisphere. The term has been in use since the 16th century. The word summer is Old English in origin while solstice ultimately comes from the Latin solstitium, “point at which the sun seems to stand still.”
Wayzgoose was a special “printers’ holiday or party” celebrated starting at least in the early 18th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Given by the “master printer” to his workmen, it was held around the feast day of St. Bartholomew (the patron saint of bookbinders among other professions) on Aug. 24 as a way to mark “the beginning of the season of working by candlelight.”
World Wide Words says “the term evolved to mean the annual summer dinner or outing held for the printers in a publishing house or newspaper office,” and that with “advances in lighting methods and reductions in working hours, the event was often held in July instead.”
As for where the word comes from, that remains unknown. There’s much speculation — for instance, that goose was once served as the centerpiece at the feast — but not much evidence.
Those long hot days between early July and early September are known as dog days. They’re so called, says the OED, because in ancient times, the period was associated with “the heliacal rising of the Dog Star in the Mediterranean area, and formerly considered to be the most unhealthy period of the year and a time of ill omen.” Also known as Sirius, the Dog Star is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major as well as “the brightest star in the heavens.”
Indian summer refers to a spell of unseasonably warm weather usually occurring in late autumn. In use since the late 18th century, the Online Etymology Dictionary says the term might come from the fact that “it was first noted in regions then still inhabited by Indians, in the upper Mississippi valley west of the Appalachians, or because the Indians first described it to the Europeans.”
Some suggest that we might want to use a name with “less colonial overtones” — for instance a moniker related to a saint. There’s St. Luke’s summer, named for the feast day of Saint Luke which occurs on Oct. 18, as well as St. Martin’s summer or Martinmas, which in addition to “a period of calm, warm weather” in fall refers to the Nov. 11 feast day itself.
Atlas Obscura has even more suggestions. The Spanish have veranillo del membrillo, “quince summer,” because “it’s around this time of year that quince finishes its ripening.” The Swedes have grävlingssommar, “badger summer,” because that’s when “badgers have one last chance to replenish their stocks for the winter” while Turkey has “pastirma summer” because “the mild weather of early November is perfect for making the cured, salted meat called pastirma (which gave pastrami its name but is its own delicious thing).”