THERE are certain foreign words and phrases that immediately draw the ire of many Trinbagonains, such as saying “soccer” instead of “football”. Or using “New Year’s Eve” instead of “Old Year’s Night”. Or saying, “I support a brutal Venezuelan dictator” instead of “I’m just neutral”. Language is of course linked to national identity, and that’s perhaps why no other word gets Trinis more riled up than “summer”. People in T&T who say summer are viewed with such scorn and derision you would swear they just applied for asylum.
Those who hate the word summer, view it as the ultimate form of being a cultural sell-out. To them saying summer is to be so enamoured by American culture that you are disconnected from the local landscape; with its rainy season and dry season and a preponderance of Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. “Isn’t it summer all year round in T&T?” proclaim these word policemen. Yes, for the most part, the weather in T&T doesn’t change. Much like our violent crime statistics and failing education system. But there are good reasons to start adopting “summer” as part of our national parlance.
Firstly, summer refers to the time of year when the earth tilts on its axis, affecting all the countries in the Northern hemisphere of which we are a part of. But the effects of this tilt is different depending on how near or far you are to the Equator. For countries away from the Equator, this results in longer days and warmer weather. For countries near the Equator, like T&T, this results in more rain and more annoying teenagers everywhere in MovieTowne. I know astronomy isn’t popular in T&T, largely because it doesn’t help anyone predict the Play Whe draw, but it does prove we experience a summer season.
Secondly and most importantly, I think summer is just a really glorious word. Its two syllables perfectly capture all that is magical about those two or three months of the year. If you’re a teen summer is all about no school and maybe asking that girl from lower 6 Literature class to go with you to the movies. If you’re an adult, summer is all about dealing with less traffic and maybe attempting a coup. Summer is a word that makes anything seem possible because its more than a word, it’s an idea. And when you think about it, would you rather take a rainy season boat cruise or go to a July/August holiday sale or watch WWE “Saharan dust season” Slam? Actually, that last one sounds awesome. But summer just makes everything sound better.
I think a lot of the snobbery towards the use of summer has to do with the fragile sense of “Trini” identity most of us have. There is a fixed idea of what a “true Trini” is all about. And all of it is superficial things like eating doubles, or liming at Maracas or pretending that bucks really exist. And anything that strays from this superficiality is met with accusations of heresy, whether it’s saying summer or indulging in other ridiculous foreign concepts like Halloween, Thanksgiving and saying that Standard and Poor’s downgrading our investment rating is really bad and it’s kinda crazy to pretend otherwise.
I suppose part of my reason for liking to use summer is a way of sticking it to the culture police who tell me I shouldn’t. I suppose just like Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley sticks it to the economy by not listening to recommendations by international rating agencies. In fact, Dr Rowley recently proclaimed that a pet peeve of his was hearing people use the word “kids” in describing children. “Kids” he felt was too much of an American term and that it was better left to describing goats. Just like he feels the recent United Nations report outlining gross human rights abuses by the Nicolas Maduro regime has too many American words like “torture, imprison and dictator”. And should really be called “let’s pretend this isn’t happening”.
In his essay “Politics and the English Language” George Orwell writes, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”. This is where the danger lies: allowing the culture police to determine what is a “real” thing to say or do is allowing them to determine how we think. Culture is not a badge fixed in shape to be worn as a label. It’s a flowing, ever changing river. New ideas with customs and language should be free to constantly flow in and out of our society. Personally, I hope the idea of summer stays.
—Darryn Boodan is
a freelance writer