Each week, we chat about the quirks & anomalies of the English language – meaning we’ll have enough material to last us another century. This week, it’s the winter of our discontent…
Q: Hi AWC, is it cold or is it just me?
A: It’s winter, so we’re pretty sure it’s not just you.
Q: Actually, my question is about seasons like Winter. I noticed that you’ve just written it without a capital letter, but surely it should have one, right?
A: Actually no. If you’re referring generally to the season, then it’s just a generic noun, not a proper noun. So you’ll have winter, spring, summer and autumn (fall, if you're in the USA).
Q: Get off the grass.
A: Seriously – that’s the convention.
Q: I bet they’d hold that convention at the Four Seasons…
A: Hilarious. But you bring up a point. If a season’s name is part of a specific title, then yes it would be capitalised. So you might have an event called “Summer Concert Series” or the “2015 Winter Semester” etc.
Q: But hang on a second. We capitalise things like Thursday – a day, and July – a month. So why wouldn’t you always capitalise Winter – a season?
A: You’re trying to bring logic into this.
Q: Ah yes, my bad. Sorry.
A: English words are like the Terminator movies – they’ve been around since forever, constantly evolving with the times, have given us some great quotes, but if you think about them too much, they don’t make a lot of sense.
A: It’s similar to the way “noon” or “midnight” are specific times, but also don’t get to sit at the big kids’ table with the capitalised words.
Q: Yeah I guess. So, just to confirm: it’s spring, not Spring – even though spring is also a bouncy thing?
A: Correct. English knows no shame.
Q: Yes, but English also loves a good exception. Any more exceptions?
A: Actually yes. Often we’ll personify (by choice) the seasons – giving them human-like emotions. For example, “Receiving Winter’s frozen kiss” or “The flowers bloomed with Spring’s magic touch” – they’re generally found in the realm of poetry and treated as proper nouns for effect.
Q: And obviously if they begin a sentence, they’ll have a capital.
A: That’s right.
Q: Okay, on a related note – would I describe the morning temperatures as “wintery” or “wintry”?
A: The correct adjective is widely accepted as “wintry” – although you will see “wintery” pop up as that is typically the pronunciation of both words anyway. And while we’re here, you’d use “summery” to describe summer, “autumnal” for autumn and “spring-like” or more formally “vernal” for spring.
Q: Thank you for that summery summary. It was well seasoned.
A: No problem. Back out into the cold for you. Nice ugg boots, by the way.
Q: They’re special outdoor ones. Hey, wait – shouldn’t that be Ugg or UGG boots?
A: We’ll save that for another time…