Grammar Guy

The four seasons

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This column is not about the famous singing quartet featuring Frankie Valli, nor is it about the international chain of fine hotels. Today I’d like to tackle when to capitalize seasons.

What can I say? I’m on a caps kick lately. It’s probably because I’ve been reading a book about George Washington featuring several examples of his correspondence. Those Founding Fathers loved capitalizing anything they deemed important—solemn abstractions like Life, Liberty and Happiness — and pretty much anything else they wanted to emphasize. I like their epistolary style.

First, let’s look at when not to capitalize seasons. The basic rule is: do not capitalize seasons when you are using them generically. Here’s an example: Indiana’s humidity levels in the summer are off the charts. And another: In Narnia, it is always winter, never Christmas.

Now, when should you upgrade seasons to proper noun status? When seasons are part of a proper noun, capitalize them. For example: I am a fanatic for the bobsled event at the Winter Olympics. Heck, I’ll even pretend to like curling if the U.S. has a team in medal contention. And another: During Fall Semester 2005, I had a mystery virus that stumped all the doctors on campus. Eventually, my body fought it off and I survived.

With my remaining word count, let’s examine fall and autumn — which is it? Do we need two words for the same thing? I like “fall” because it says what it is; not only do the leaves start to fall, but the temperatures do as well. In fact, spring and fall both appeared in English in the sixteenth century as “spring of the leaf” and “fall of the leaf.” They were eventually shortened to “spring” and “fall.”

Autumn came from the French word “automne.” At this point, fall and autumn are interchangeable. I prefer “fall,” but won’t judge anyone who uses “autumn,” although autumn is kind of like fall’s snooty cousin. I do think it’s silly that we have two distinct words for the same season.

Now that it’s winter, I’m ready to get the sled out of the garage and find a hill that would make

Bill Watterson’s Calvin tremble in his snow boots. More than anything, I can’t wait for a season where we can stop using the phrase “new normal”; I’ll make a special effort to capitalize on my post-pandemic life.

 

Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.

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