why don't we capitalize seasons?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Did you know seasons aren't capitalized?

Yeah, like spring, summer, fall, winter--they're all supposed to be lowercase.

That seems really weird because you capitalize other periods of time, like months (September, October, etc.) and days (Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.), so why not seasons?

Dictionary.com shares this:

O.E., "fourth season of the year," from P.Gmc. *wentruz (cf. O.Fris., Du. winter, O.S., O.H.G. wintar, Ger. winter, Dan., Swed. vinter, Goth. wintrus, O.N. vetr "winter"), possibly from PIE *wed-/*wod-/*ud- "wet" (see water), or from *wind- "white" (cf. Celt. vindo- "white"). The Anglo-Saxons counted years in "winters," cf. O.E. ænetre "one-year-old." O.N. Vetrardag, first day of winter, was the Saturday that fell between Oct. 10 and 16. The verb meaning "to pass the winter (in some place)" is recorded from 1382. Winterize is from 1938, on model of earlier summerize (1935). Wintergreen as a type of plant is recorded from 1548.

And what we can gather from that garbage is that, originally, winter was a unit of time--so it makes sense that it's not capitalized, since we don't capitalize other units of time, such as hour, minute, year, and so on.

The etymology of spring and fall says they're derived from verbs. Okay, we don't capitalize verbs either.

And summer, well, if you can understand this nonsense:
O.E. sumor, from P.Gmc. *sumur- (cf. O.S., O.N., O.H.G. sumar, O.Fris. sumur, M.Du. somer, Du. zomer, Ger. Sommer), from PIE base *sem- (cf. Skt. sama "season, half-year," Avestan hama "in summer," Armenian amarn "summer," O.Ir. sam, O.Welsh ham, Welsh haf "summer").

...please let us know.

But that still doesn't really answer our question.

Internet searches and style guides came up short, too. We even asked our boss, and he didn't know. We asked his boss, he didn't know either--and now we've got him wondering why. But he did suggest we ask a word wizard who used to work here. We did, and when (or if) his answer arrives, we'll post it.

Pending that, our guess is that seasons are units of measure, so, like other units of measure--hours, days, weeks, months--they're not capitalized. "Tuesday" and "December," for example, aren't units of measure, rather they're proper names we attribute to units of measure--and since they're proper names, they're capitalized.

Of course, if the season is used in a title, like Spring Prom or Winter Formal '08, then it's capitalized.


Word Wizard-Man responds!
I think [your friend] is partly right about the initial caps. He's a little wrong with his examples. December and spring (at least as it signifies 3/21 to 6/21) are both units of measure. In another sense spring up here may not be capitalized because it is largely mythical. On the other hand, December is a unit of measure and Tuesday is the name of a god, Tyr, or God (tiwas is cognate with deus and for the sake of consistency they ought to be Tiwas and Deus, except that God is real and tiwas and deus only myths).

My second question is if you capitalize July because it comes from Julius or March from Mars, then should it be December to match July or december to match spring? The popular vote favors December over december possibly because July August september etc. just looks funny. But then so does July August September Etc. And by the way, shouldn't we rename October December and change December to Duodecember for the sake of clarity?

Conclusion: don't apply reason to usage; that way lies madness.

We still don't think of December as a unit of measure, though. For example, you don't refer to 93 days as "Three Decembers"--rather, "December" is the name we give for a specific period of time. Admittedly, so is winter, spring, etc., but we've also heard people measure time in seasons--for example, a farmer referring to a large yield as "two falls' worth of crop."

Either way, we're still curious.


Anonymous said...


longinus said...

perhaps it's because there are at least two distinct definitions of each season. take "summer."

1) one astronomical perspective: summer's center is on the solstice.
2) another: summer starts on the solstice.
3) ordinary person in the northern hemisphere: summer is June 1 thru the end of August..
4) Timmy: summer starts when he gets out of classes.

"Wednesday" and "December," on the other hand, are not very ambiguous about their beginning, middles, and ends.