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Season of the Bureaucrat

Season of the Bureaucrat

Four times a year we read in the newspapers that “today is the official start of fall,” or whatever season it may be. The notion of some government functionary dictating the seasons is an odd one to begin with, and in most cases, starting and ending them at solstices and equinoxes is contrary to common usage. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, autumn is “reckoned astronomically from the descending equinox to the winter solstice,” but “popularly, it comprises, in Great Britain, August, September, and October [Samuel Johnson]; in North America, September, October, and November (Webster); and in France ‘from the end of August to the first fortnight of November’ (Littré).” That’s why in Britain the summer solstice was considered “midsummer night,” not the start of summer.

What all this means is that fall has indeed just started—if you want. And if you think fall started when the kids went back to school, or that it won’t start until the leaves start dropping, that’s equally correct. Officials have the authority to decide when Veterans’ Day or Thanksgiving is, but with something as ancient and fundamental as the seasons, their choice is no better than anyone else’s. That’s the American way, after all.

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