The calendar tells us that the Northern Hemisphere summer is still a few weeks away. A few moments outdoors confirm that the season is already here. Let’s spend a minute with its names in English and Spanish.
“Summer romance” (amores de verano, in Spanish), a phrase that brings a sigh to many lips.
“Summer” is Germanic in origin (Old Saxon sumar)… One of the oldest extant texts in English is the poetic hymn to the season, ”Sumer is icumen in” (Summer is here), from 13th century Middle English.
Spanish verano, unsurprisingly, comes from Latinveranum; what’s unexpected to modern eyes and ears, though, is that veranum could mean either spring or summer. These seasons, which we differentiate, were historically blurred together—as were their names. Indeed, Spanish primavera, for spring, used to mean “early summer”.
English speakers turn “summer” into a verb and speak of “summering in Maine”; in Spanish, the noun has to be retrofitted to make veranear: Antes veraneábamos en la sierra (We used to summer in the mountains).
(By the way, let’s clear up a lingering doubt: the seasons are not capitalized in English unless part of a proper name such as “Summer Olympics”, “Fall Semester”.)
Kids go to “summer camp”, which in Spanish can be called either la colonia de verano or, much like the English, el campamento de verano.
Spanish has another word for summer, almost unused except in literary contexts: el estío (from Latin aestivum), a relative of French été. The same root is present in “to estivate” or “estivation” (the latter a hot-weather equivalent of hibernation).
Finally, dear reader, there must be a “summer romance” that you can recall with a sigh. Curiously, this phrase, the same as its Spanish equivalent, amores de verano, was little used before the 1960s.
Copyright © 2013 by Pablo Julián Davis. All rights reserved. A version of this essay was originally written for the June 9-15, 2013 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee), as part of the regular bilingual column “Mysteries and Enigmas of Translation”. Pablo Julián Davis (www.interfluency.com) is an ATA Certified Translator (inglés>español) and a Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Interpreter (inglés<>español) who also provides custom-designed cultural/linguistic coaching and training.