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What is the appropriate term to describe the 6-month period between equinoxes, when the earth's axis is tilted towards the sun? Most dictionaries define summer as only the warmest months, June to August (in the Northern hemisphere).

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What about from autumnal to vernal? What about from solstice to solstice? –  Mitch Oct 29 '12 at 15:54
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spring and summer –  Ataraxia Oct 29 '12 at 15:58
    
Spring and summer are separate terms, I was wondering if there was one all encompasing term. –  user23679 Oct 29 '12 at 16:07
    
Summer time (in Europe) and Daylight Saving Time (in North America) is not that far away. –  Henry Oct 29 '12 at 18:08
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Summer used to be the entire half-year, not just the single season it is now more usually reckoned. I say usually, because midsummer betrays the old two-season calendar. See my answer. –  tchrist Oct 29 '12 at 18:30

2 Answers 2

Not that I am whole-heartedly suggesting this as a viable modern sense, but during elder days in the Northwest of our world, the word for the period extending from the vernal equinox to the autumnal one was quite simply Summer — nothing more, and nothing else.

There were only two seasons not four in this system, and we preserve this even today in our own Midsummer and Midwinter. That is why its midpoint at the solstice is called Midsummer’s Day. That is also why the midpoint of Winter is on Midwinter’s Day, which is the opposite solstice.

Alfta Lothurrsdottir discusses this in her Religious Practices of the Pre-Christian & Viking Age North under time-keeping:

The Two Great Seasons

The major unit of time keeping for Heathens was the two great seasons. Unlike our four seasons, they had two which consisted of Winter and Summer. Sometimes they were called Spring and Autumn but it was still only two seasons that were meant. Each one was 26 weeks long. This practice turned into four seasons the farther South one went but for the most part, the Northern Europeans seemed to have kept a two season calendar. [...] Both the Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse have terms that support this two-fold division of the year.

Iceland, Greenland, and indeed also England reckoned the year into having two seasonal halves. That means that old records that measured things in seasons were actually twice as long than many casual readers would reckon things: eight seasons ago is four years, not two.

It is not hard to see why they did this. In Reykjavík during midsummer, the sun never completely deserts them, and during midwinter, it is hardly to be seen.

We can see this in our earliest records of the words in English, where winter and summer — or equally, summer and winter — was how one specified a full year. Citations from the OED:

  • A. 1000 Phœnix 37 (Gr.) ― Wintres & sumeres wudu bið ʒelice bledum ʒehongen.
  • C. 1205 Lay. 2861 ― Enne blase of fure, þe neuer ne aþeostrede wintres ne sumeres.

Time was reckoned differently then. They would often count years by counting winters, and so a man of twenty winters was a twenty-year-old, just as a two- or three-year-old was a twinter and a thrinter respectively.

However, even their ideas of summer and winter were not quite ours. For them, the summery half the year began during mid-to-late April, and the wintry half during mid-to-late October. Samhain marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, and Beltain, close to our own May Day, the beginning of summer. The cross-quarter days were useful in the common mindset, because of the thermal inertia that causes the apparent season to lag behind the actual solstices and equinoxes.

It wasn’t too long after the invasion of the southern occupiers from Normandy that the sense of a four-season year began to evolve:

  • C. 1200 Ormin 11254 ― O sumerr, & onn herrfessttid, O winnterr, & o lenntenn.

That is, not just summer and winter, but also a lenten season and a harvesttide.

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I don't know if I believe a northern origin for this: I grew up in a temperate region (southern California, to be exact), and I really didn't understand the concept of four seasons until I moved further north (to Pennsylvania). Here, there are definite differences: spring is not the same as summer, and autumn is not the same as winter (though autumn here does make a passable California winter, just with more colorful leaves). –  Marthaª Oct 29 '12 at 18:39
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Twinter and thrinter?! +1 for interestingness. –  coleopterist Oct 29 '12 at 18:51
    
@Marthaª What is it you do not believe a northern origin for? That our calendar had once but two seasons not four? This is quite well documented. Or why midsummer and midwinter fall on (or just past) the solstices instead of on their respective cross-quarter days following that six weeks later? This too is well documented. It’s all about a two-season year. You have never lived at these high latitudes. The sun is quite dramatic: Edinburgh stands at 56°N, Reykjavík at 64°N. Philly at merely 40°N simply doesn’t compare. –  tchrist Oct 29 '12 at 19:23
    
+1 for single word "summer" –  Fuhrmanator Oct 30 '12 at 14:58

The period between equinoxes would be interequinoctial:

Coming between the equinoxes.

Summer and winter I have called interequinoctial intervals. — F. Balfour.

The term appears to be a little dated.

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But how to refer to the particular interval asked in the question? –  Fuhrmanator Oct 30 '12 at 4:35
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@Fuhrmanator hmm. Perhaps, aesitval/vernal interequinoctial vs. hibernal/autumnal interequinoctial? –  coleopterist Oct 30 '12 at 5:00

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