Ben's life-long interest in language extends to the richness of its expressions, phrases, idioms, and quotations. They give it such variety!
Summer—the warmest season of the year and a time of plenty. Nature blooms, and wildlife flourishes. It is hardly surprising, then, that this most eagerly anticipated season of the year is the source of many notable quotes, idioms, adages, and turns of phrase. These sayings, generated from the impact of summer seasons on generations long past, still have relevant messages of popular wisdom for those who thrive in the long and lovely summer days of the present. Below, over 15 of these summer sayings are listed along with their meanings, and—where available—their histories and origins.
"It's Not Summer Until the Cricket Sings"
Meaning: The summer season really begins when the chirping of crickets can be commonly heard at night.
Origin: Greek proverb
Fun Fact: Did you know that the chirp of crickets is often the loudest natural sound heard at night during the summer months?
Validity: As far back as 1897, Amos Dolbeqar noted a correlation between temperature and cricket chirps—they chirp louder in warmer weather. Think of them like a biological thermometer!
"Ash Before Oak, You're in for a Soak"
Full Proverb: "When the oak is before the ash, then you will only get a splash; when the ash is before the oak, then you may expect a soak."
Meaning: If oak trees regain their foliage before ash trees, it will be a dryer summer; If the opposite is true, it will be a wetter summer.
Validity: Recently carried out surveys suggest that climate change has a profound effect in reducing the likelihood of this folklore being even-handed. The Woodland Trust survey, which covered 44 years before 2008, found that increased warming in spring heavily favored the oak's early advancement.
Dr. Kate Lewthwaite (Woodland Trust's expert on climate change) reported: "With every one-degree rise in temperature, oak has a four-day advantage over ash. Ash appears to be more responsive to the day's length in spring, while oak is more responsive to temperature. So with warmer springs, oak is having the advantage." It seems that reliance upon this expression may be something to reconsider.
"Dog Days of Summer"
Meaning: The hottest period of the summer season; a time of hot and sticky days (usually during mid to late summer) when expending energy is too exhausting
Origin: In Greek mythology, Sirus—the dog star—rises and sets in line with the sun in the northern hemisphere during late summer. The ancient Greeks believed that this combination of the dog star and the sun was what made the weather so stifling.
Example sentence: "It's been so hot this last week. It is exhausting to attempt anything too strenuous. I think the dog days of summer have finally arrived."
"Saint Swithin's Day if Thou Dost Rain, 40 Days It Will Remain"
Meaning: If it rains on a particular day (St. Swithin's Day), it will continue to rain for 40 days. Similar proverbs exist in many countries, and oddly, many involve a trigger around mid-July. Some state that whatever the weather is (good or bad) on this day, the next 40 will be the same.
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Probable Origin: This ancient English saying may relate to a Saxon Bishop. The proverb suggests that should it rain on St. Swithin's Day (15th July), it will rain for an additional 40 days.
The saying revolves around the last wishes of the Bishop of Winchester not being respected. The Bishop asked to be laid to rest outside the cathedral. However, nine years after his burial, monks moved his body to a shrine within the cathedral walls, and legend has it that a massive downpour opened up during the ceremony, giving rise to the proverb.
Validity: Is there any truth to this old proverb? As unlikely as it may seem, there is, and it stems from the jetstream's movements. Typically, the jetstream stops roaming and settles in place beginning in mid-July and stays put until the end of August. I can remember a few occasions over the years when this proverb proved accurate.
Meaning: A late summer or spell of warm sunshine in October; a time of great happiness that comes late in life
Possible origin: This expression is thought to have been introduced by early American colonizers in western parts of the country that were occupied by Indigenous Americans, where there was a tendency for late Autumn to display periods of warmer weather.
Example sentence: "It feels like this warm spell is going to extend right through October—an Indian summer indeed."
"No Year has Two Summers"
Meaning: One should take full advantage of good summer weather while it lasts. One should take full advantage of other good or useful periods (youth, retirement, winter vacation from school, etc.) while they last.
Origin: Russian proverb
Example sentence: "Becoming a professional actor is a long shot, but if you're interested in doing it, you'd better go for it now while you're still young. After all, no year has two summers."
"Soak Up Some Sun"
Meaning: Enjoy the sunshine by allowing the sunlight to warm your skin
Example sentence: "This is such a gorgeous beach; I just want to lay here and soak up some sun."
Meaning: A short summer romance
Example sentence: "We met on holiday. He was from Australia, and I live in Canada—I guess it was inevitable that it only ended up being a brief summer fling."
"A Life Without Love Is Like a Year Without Summer"
Meaning: This expression likens the lack of love in a person's life to the passage of a year without the warmth, color, and joy of the summer season.
Origin: Swedish proverb
"One Swallow Doesn't Make a Summer"
Meaning: A single occurrence of something does not make a trend.
Origin: This ancient Greek proverb was first transcribed into English in 1539 by Richard Tavener. Chloe Rhodes, author of One for Sorrow: A Book of Old-Fashioned Lore (2011), describes how the saying became popular following its appearance in Aesop's Fables as published in English in 1484.
The fable "The Spendthrift and the Swallow" tells of how a young man, having frittered away his money, left with only the clothes he stood in, saw a swallow, and thinking that summer had come, sold his coat. A hard frost arrived, the swallow died, and he almost perished with cold.
Example sentence: "I won $40 on the last race. It was so easy. I know you are going to tell me that one swallow doesn't make a summer, but I reckon it's the start of a winning streak."
"Make Hay While the Sun Shines"
Meaning: Seize the opportunity presented by a favourable set of circumstances.
Origin: This proverb has its origin in 16th-century England and first appeared in John Heywood's Dialogue of Proverbs (1546):
Whan the sunne shynth make hey.
Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.
Example sentence: "Right now, these sweatshirts are selling like hot-cakes. I have the only supply in the town, and I intend to make hay while the sun shines."
"A Bolt Out of the Blue"
Meaning: A sudden surprise or shock
Example sentence: "My son and daughter-in-law had been trying to conceive for years; in fact, they had given up any hope. So, you can imagine our surprise at the news of their expecting twins. It was a real bolt of the blue!"
"Sow Your Wild Oats"
Meaning: Have many sexual relationships while young
Probable origin: Historically, this phrase was used to compare young men's inability to correctly and efficiently sow seeds in the field with the more skilled efforts of older, more seasoned men. Typically, the older men would avoid throwing seed onto rough or weed-riddled ground in order to get a better yield.
"The Silly Season"
Meaning: The time of year when the British Parliament is in recess and newspapers tend to report on less serious topics than politics
Example sentence: "The news headline this morning is that Scientists are to kill ducks to see why they are dying—I think we must be in the silly season!"
"Do what we can, summer will have its flies; if we walk in the woods we must feed mosquitos; if we go a-fishing we must expect a wet coat . . . "
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
"A Ray of Sunshine"
Meaning: Something joyous; something that makes one happy
Example sentence: "Your Grandson is such a happy chappie—he's a little ray of sunshine."
"Find One's Place in the Sun"
Meaning: Achieve one's ultimate goal; become content and satisfied with one's circumstances
Origin: This idiom has its roots in past colonial empires. Harry Oliver, author of March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles, provides the example of countries seeking to colonize parts of the African continent and quotes the German Chancellor (1897) when making a speech about expanding the German empire: "We desire to throw no one into the shade, but we demand our own place in the sun."
Example sentence: "Josh has worked incredibly hard and given up a great deal to pursue his dream job. But finally, he has succeeded, and he can now enjoy his place in the sun."
References and Further Reading
- Boeckmann, C. (2020, July 15). "Predict The Temperature With Cricket Chirps." Almanac. https://www.almanac.com/content/predict-temperature-cricket-chirps
- Shaw, N. (2020, July 13). "Science behind St Swithin's Day and what it means for this summer." WalesOnline. https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/uk-news/science-behind-st-swithins-day-18586568
- Clover, C. (2008, May 30). "Ash no longer a contender to leaf before oak." The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthnews/3343188/Ash-no-longer-a-contender-to-leaf-before-oak.html
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 10, 2020: