One of the great joys of autumn is Indian Summer. As a kid, I imagined that this short sweet season was called Indian Summer because it was hot, like it often is in India. Not quite. Like Columbus, who upon landing in the Bahamas but thinking he’d landed in India, called the locals ‘Indios’, my mistake is based on a false assumption. Indian Summer is not named for South Asian weather, but for American Indians.
Wikipedia offers this nice pastoral description and etymology of the phrase: “An Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in spring and autumn in the Northern Hemisphere…Although the exact origins of the term are uncertain, it was perhaps so-called because it was first noted in regions inhabited by Native Americans (“Indians”), or because the Native Americans first described it to Europeans, or it had been based on the warm and hazy conditions in autumn when Native Americans hunted.”
Other sources describe a somewhat less pastoral origin for the phrase. This 18th century reference describes a time of unseasonable warmth when Native Americans would raid European settlements. (https://www.fairbanksmuseum.org/eye-on-the-sky/2018-10-17)
The Phrase Finder suggests:
“Why Indian? Well, no one knows but, as is commonplace when no one knows, many people have guessed. Here are a few of the more commonly repeated guesses:
” The haziness of the Indian Summer weather was caused by prairie fires deliberately set by Native American tribes.
” It was the period when First Nations/Native American peoples harvested their crops.
” The phenomenon was more common in what were then North American Indian territories.
” It originated from raids on European settlements by Indian war parties, which usually ended in autumn.
” In a parallel with other ‘Indian’ terms it implied a belief in Indian falsity and untrustworthiness and that an Indian summer was an ersatz copy of the real thing.”
Given the multifarious connotations of the term – some decidedly negative – perhaps it’s time to retire the relic that it is and use something more in keeping with the changing nature of our society? There are plenty of less-charged options. The Dutch and German call it Old Wives’ summer. In Sweden it is called Badger summer (badger’s last chance to put up stores for winter). How about something simple like “Second Summer” or “Second Chance Summer”? Or maybe something joyous like “Lucky Season”?