Across the world summer is a season of the year and we all talk about 'the summer' - do you have plans for the summer ? etc.

But In America it is often taken to refer to the period of college vacation when students take temporary employment etc. e.g. She did charity work over the summer. This would not imply necessarily the climatic summer season, so much as the college vacation.

It is my belief that we do not use summer in this way in Britain, unless we say something like What are you doing over the summer break?

Can anyone supply further insight into this different nuance which is placed on what is simply a season of the year?

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    It can refer to "summer break" when one or both of the speakers is a student. The question "What are you doing this summer?", when posed to a college student, is probably asking about internships or summer employment or possibly additional courses in a summer program or educational travel, not about where the student plans to kick back and relax for a couple of those weeks, on vacation. – TRomano Nov 13 '15 at 15:36
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    So summer only ever refers to astronomical or meteorological summer elsewhere? How sad to live in such a literal-minded place as Not-America sounds like, and how difficult it must be to keep track of when summer begins and ends in each locale. :) – choster Nov 13 '15 at 15:50
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    @TimRomano That is what I meant. But this type of use seems to me to extend to the wider society outside of college students etc. The summer seems to have a specific calendar-informed connotation in America, which I have not encountered elsewhere. – WS2 Nov 13 '15 at 15:50
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    I don't think about the time between the end of Spring semester and the start of Fall semester as a break. I think of breaks as interruptions during a semester. So Fall Break and Spring Break refer to the week or so off in the middle of the semester. But school is over after finals in the Spring and does not start up again until the first day of the Fall semseter. So it's just "summer". – Jim Nov 13 '15 at 16:11
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    @WS2: In America public K-12 schools typically start in early September (about Labor Day) and run until the beginning of June (about Memorial Day). Memorial Day to Labor Day is generally summer vacation from school for all children and college students. The schedule originated when the kids had to be back working on the farm during the summer; now it's just another American quirk. If there are children in the family, what Americans mean is what plans can be made for excursions or vacations as a family. For teens, it usually means jobs or summer school. – John Lawler Nov 13 '15 at 16:58

In the realm of education, summer can indeed refer to the break between the end of the spring term and the beginning of the fall term.

Those labels themselves should illustrate, however, that seasons in a particular context need not correspond to their astronomical or meteorological definitions. The spring semester, for example, typically begins in January— spring break may well come and go before the vernal equinox. A student who says I'm taking a Shakespeare course in the spring to another student will be understood to be referring to the academic term. If the same student said we're going to go camping in the spring, it is less clear without additional context whether she means the spring term or to the end of winter. A non-student would no doubt assume the latter.

  • For institutions on the semester system (e.g. University of Texas at Austin), the spring term typically ends in early- to mid-May, and classes resume for the autumn in mid- to late August.
  • For institutions on the quarter system (e.g. University of California, Los Angeles), the spring session typically ends in mid-June, with fall quarter classes beginning in late September.
  • Institutions on the trimester system (e.g. Dartmouth College) have a similar calendar to the quarter system, but with an abbreviated summer session.

Summer is contextual in other seasonally-influenced fields as well. To meteorologists, it begins at the start of June, not with the solstice. For American workers, it is commonly the period between the Memorial Day holiday in late May to the Labor Day holiday in early September. And for the U.S. Department of Energy, it corresponds to the driving season which runs from April to September.

  • +1. And I will specifically point out the that for working adult Americans, who are not tied to the school year, summer simply means the season. If I were to ask a coworker "Have any plans over the summer?", I would be inquiring if he's going on vacation sometime during the summer (which in my industry is the slow season). – Dan Bron Nov 13 '15 at 18:05
  • @DanBron Unless that working American adult is a teacher, of course :) – VampDuc Nov 13 '15 at 18:24
  • @VampDuc Well, I did qualify it with "who are not tied to the school year" :) – Dan Bron Nov 13 '15 at 18:24
  • @DanBron Ah, your comment got broken up weirdly on my device and I missed the line. – VampDuc Nov 13 '15 at 18:25
  • And the comma you used after "adult Americans" made a difference in meaning. – Steven Littman Nov 14 '15 at 2:24

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