“Seasonal” Words: Do They Exist?
Henry James once wrote.
Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,
With the start of spring and the promise of summer, now is a good time to think about seasonal words. Writers, by nature, are collectors of words and catchy turns of phrase, but are there some that should be retired when they fall out of season? Look to literature for inspiration.
Words for Spring
Spring is associated with birth and youth, and the emergence of color after drab winter days. Vernal, verdant, fertile, burgeoning, and callow are favorite spring words, as are blossoming, sprouting, and bursting forth. A line from Rainer Maria Rilke says it best:
Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.
Spring is also the perfect time to express words of love. Pablo Neruda, master of love poems, invokes spring themes:
I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees.
You can’t help thinking of romance with spring-like phrases such as breathe in and come alive.
Words for Summer
In summer, the song sings itself.
wrote William Carlos Williams. Summer is the season of daydreams, beach walks, and carefree afternoons soaking up the sun. Languid, languorous, and leisurely are favorite summer words, as are jaunty, jovial, and happy-go-lucky.
Summer is also the season of heat and passion. Think sizzling, sweltering, searing, and scorched. In Mad in Pursuit, Violette Leduc describes summer well:
I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of summer.
Of course, no summer vocabulary is complete without recreational words like picnic, cookout, camp, and vacation.
Words for Autumn
Autumn is the only season that has two names. The word fall for the third season appeared in the 16th century; prior to that time, only summer and winter were defined seasons with names. Spring and fall were shortened from “spring of the leaf” and “fall of the leaf” to define the in-between seasons.
Fall is the season of harvest, of crisp weather, and (of course) pumpkin spice latte. William Blake’s famous poem “To Autumn” begins,
Oh Autumn, laden with fruit and stained with the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit beneath my shady roof.
Autumn is crackling, golden, and vibrant – a cornucopia of color.
Back to school sale, Indian summer, and pumpkin patch are uniquely autumn phrases that rarely get used once fall has passed.
Words for Winter
When winter comes, it brings words such as snowflake, shiver, frostbite, and flurry. John Updike wrote of winter:
The day is short, the sun a spark hung thin between the dark and dark.
Earmuffs, parka, mittens, boots – winter has its own wardrobe of words. It has its own menu, too: hot cocoa, hearty stew, fruitcake, Christmas cookies, and milk.
Some winter words melt away with spring: icicle, hibernate, toboggan, snowball fight, wind chill factor, and arctic blast.
Words for Holidays
Each holiday has a unique lexicon of seasonal words. New Year’s Eve brings resolutions and Auld Lang Syne. April heralds Easter bunnies and Easter bonnets, egg rolls and egg hunts, and the iconic marshmallow Peep. In July, we get fireworks, parades, and patriotism wrapped in the American flag. Christmas is the mother lode: Santa, mistletoe, Black Friday, eggnog, nutcracker, Scrooge, tinsel, wassail, carol, and Yule.
Most words are evergreen and show up all year round, but some words evoke seasonal memories and feel out of place when they’re used out of turn. Pumpkin pie and picnic, for example, elicits a seasonal disconnect.
What are some of your favorite words to conjure up a warm spring day or a cold winter night?