Autumn is coming. Days are getting shorter and the wind blows leaves from the trees and hats from our heads. The truth is that no one likes autumn. No one, except those who know what the babie lato (Polish) or Indian summer (English) is. In Poland, it’s the time of unexpected warm weather between September and October. This phenomenon occurs not only across Europe, but also in many countries of Asia and America, and every nation calls it differently.
The name babie lato sounds in Polish a bit suspicious because it’s directly associated with baby (old/ugly women). Therefore, it’s sometimes translated mistakenly as the summer of the old women. However, the correct etymology should be found in the German language. The term babie lato has been directly borrowed from German – Altweibersommer because Alt (old), Weib (an old word for woman) and Sommer (summer). The problem is, that the word has a figurative meaning. This time of the year many spiders weave their nets. They fly in the wind and look like long white hair.
In German and its dialects we can hear a lot of names for this season, for example: Frauensommer (women summer), Mädchensommer (girls summer), Witwensommer (widows summer), Allerheiligensommer (summer of All Saints), fliegender Sommer (flying summer) or just Spätsommer (late summer).
Eastern and Western Slavs had very similar associations: бабье лето (Russian), бабіна лета (Belarusian), бабине літо (Ukrainian) or babí léto (Czech). Although, in Russia, it’s said, that the name comes from the women who stop working in the fields after the harvest and start working in their households.
South Slavs living in Bulgaria or Macedonia call Indian summer – циганско лято (Bulgarian), which means gypsy summer. The origin of the name refers to a group of linguistic units called xenonyms. They are based on the culture of a particular nation, or rather its “unwillingness” to another (neighbor) nation. Although it doesn’t always reflect the reality, it often implicates the formation of words defining the phenomenon that for that particular nation are/were either foreign or strange. That is why the gypsy summer is not related to the Gypsies, but to the weather, that for the South Slavs was considered as an anomaly.
In Croatia and Serbia, the name for the Indian summer was also borrowed from German – bablje ljeto (Croatian), бабље љето (Serbian), although it’s also known as Martinjsko ljeto (Croatian) or Михољско љето (Serbian). Both names are connected with the Orthodox church. The Croatian name Martinjsko ljeto comes from the St. Martin’s day, and the Serbian term – Михољско љето from the St. Michael Archangel feast. Both of them are celebrated in the Indian summer.
Indian summer begins on the day of St. Martin also in Europe – in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. In the Netherlands, it’s the day of the death of St. Teresa of Ávila (4/15 October) and in Sweden – the day of St. Brigit the patron of Europe (October 7).
Finally, in North America people call this season Indian summer (English). There are several explanations why it’s so different from other terms. The name could have came from a weather phenomenon, that had been occurring in the areas inhabited by the Indians, or because the Indians were the first who described it to the Europeans. However, it’s also possible that the Indian summer is related to the period in which the Indians were hunting.
Whatever we call it, hopefully it comes, so we can enjoy the autumn sun… 🙂