Indian Summer – Can We Be Offended If We Don’t Know?

Recently on Weather Underground, a show on the Weather Channel, the host said management had decreed they no longer use the phrase “Indian Summer” for a warm autumn day, but rather “Second Summer.” He went on to say some Native Americans find the phrase offensive but others do not, and left the impression he disagreed with his management – I don’t know how brave or foolish that may be for an employee on cable TV.

My Google search provided this as its top link: “Although the exact origins of the term are uncertain, it is thought to have been based on the warm and hazy conditions in autumn when native American Indians chose to hunt.”

While that certainly refers to Native Americans, it hardly seems offensive. Though I doubt warm fall days were the only time to hunt!

Phrase Finder says

Indian summer is first recorded in Letters From an American Farmer, a 1778 work by the French-American soldier turned farmer J. H. St. John de Crèvecoeur…[It arrived in England] during the heyday of the British Raj in India. This led to the mistaken belief that the term referred to the Indian subcontinent.”

No one knows why the phrase refers to Indians, but Phrase Finder lists several theories. The one that may lead to offense is:

In a parallel with other ‘Indian’ terms it implied a belief in Indian falsity and untrustworthiness and that an Indian summer was an ersatz copy of the real thing.

Since no one knows the source of the term and there are many “harmless” theories, I’m surprised the phrase is falling into disrepute.

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