Monday, January 30, 2012


When I first moved to Germany I was surprised when people told me they had visited or planned to go to New England for Indian Summer, as if it were a sure thing. How did they calculate, I wondered. I wondered aloud, and found out what they meant was 'foliage season,' when trees turned colorful as a headress full of feathers. It was easy to understand where the mistake was made.

Still, I tried to explain what Indian Summer really was - that time of year when the heat creeps back, although you thought autumn had started, a bout of hot weather usurping the season, unexpected and unwelcome. It was than that I first made the connection between Indian Summer and 'Indian giver.'

This backstory was more difficult to explain, and eventually I gave up. I know where the expression comes from, but I let the Germans keep their own, though the imprecision irks. Am I lazy, or just dismayed by the effort of explaining, or is it worse than that? Is Indian Summer = foliage season a semantic whitewash?


Andrew Shields said...

Have you tried just saying that "Indian Summer" in English corresponds to "Altweibersommer" in German?

SarahJane said...

Yes, I have. I just wonder why the misunderstanding ever came up. If you look through German tourism websites and trip deals etc it often offers Indian Summer vacations. I got tired of correcting individuals and after a while it seemed pointless.

Andrew Shields said...

Back in the late 90s, all Germans seemed to think "handy" was the English word for their "Handy." They seem to have stopped calling their cells/mobiles "handies" now.

SarahJane said...

At least in English! I must admit to sometimes wondering what to call it in English. I usually go with cell phone, but a lot of people seem to say "mobile," too. Or actually, it seems just to be "your phone," now, and no one has landlines anymore.

Andrew Shields said...

American English = cell phone; British English = mobile. That's my rule of thumb, at least. Is it really true that people say "telefonino" in Italian? If so, I love it!

(For a while in the late nineties, I said "portable," because Andrea lived in France at the time, and that's what they say, though of course with French pronunciation.)

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