Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
The word “summertime” is redundant. In almost every sentence that uses the term it can be replaced by the word “summer” with little loss of meaning. Same goes for “wintertime” and “springtime.” Still, many of us would be loathe to relinquish these venerable “-time” chestnuts. For one thing, they allow our lyrics and poems to scan properly. For another, they help us with our French lessons: in French the “springtime” equivalent, printemps, has not only joined the older French word for “spring,” primevère, it has supplanted it.
Have you noticed, though, that official English is missing one of the redundant “-time” words? We have summertime, wintertime, and springtime, but no falltime or autumntime. Though you will find a scattering of these missing words on the net (e. g.,“falltime fashion”), they have yet to receive the anointing of lexicographers and book editors. By way of compensation, those of us in North America have two words for the timeless season, “fall” and “autumn,” that are nearly perfect synonyms.
Anyhoooo, back to summertime. The word “summer” has no etymological connection with “sun.” Some people, however, seem to think it does:
: “The cats we have now are mainly indoors. The occasional time they get out in the sunnertime, but I try to keep them indoors.”
: “just had a scary thought: single mom here, what the hell am i going to do in the sunnertime when ds is out of school?”
: “Just got back from a Australia to this -10 temperature thinking ahead to the sunnertime in Muskoka and was inspired by your pictures ”
: “Not all sake is drunk hot. In fact, some of the best sake should be drunk chilled. Drinking it chilled is also a sunnertime way of drinking sake. ”
: “In the sunnertime, everyday should feel like a Friday!”
These examples could of course be typos: “m” and “n” lie next to each other on the QWERTY keyboard.
Have you noticed, though, that official English is missing one of the redundant “-time” words? We have summertime, wintertime, and springtime, but no falltime or autumntime. Though you will find a scattering of these missing words on the net (e. g.,“falltime fashion”), they have yet to receive the anointing of lexicographers and book editors.
No, I hadn’t noticed, and that is interesting. The OED has separate entries for the other three but not for “Autumn-time.” They do acknowledge its existence under the entry for “Time,” where all four hyphenated seasonal time words are listed without further comment.
“Autumntime” and “Autumn-time” aren’t that common, but the two-word “Autumn time”—in apparently exactly the same meaning—is all over the place. According to books.google.com (332 rgh) the prose writers who have gotten it past editors include Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Ernest Thompson Seton, Thomas Hardy, Iris Murdoch and even Henry Rollins, former lead singer of punk-rock band Black Flag. And it’s probably even more common in poetry, with D. H. Lawrence, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Allen Ginsberg just a few of the users.
My too-quick check does seem to suggest that editors may be less willing to treat “autumn-time” as a compound. The standard wisdom about the spelling of compounds in English is that they first come into the language as two separate words, then they get hyphenated, and then they end up treated as a single word once speakers have stopped thinking of them so consciously as a combination of the individual parts. I’ve often wondered how true that is—I would have expected “ice cream/ice-cream” to be one word by now—but if there is something to it, maybe that whiff of bookishness that clings to Autumn (that mn ending, for instance) keeps “autumntime” from feeling as natural as “wintertime.”
The OED overhyphenates. It’s not just a British trait-even the BNC has “springtime” at 10 times the frequency of “spring-time.” “Wintertime,” “springtime,” and “summertime” should be unhyphenated in modern English. What we are missing, sadly, is the unhyphenated “falltime” and “autumntime.” Even if they are redundant, I’d like to have them in my quiver.
A pity, too, that English has lost most of its good ”-tide” words. About the only ”-tide” word we still see with any frequency is “yuletide.” “Noontide” also puts in the odd appearance. Those who hang around liturgical churches encounter a lot more of the old tides: lententide, eastertide, shrovetide.
“Tide,” meaning a period of time, has deep roots in English. The meaning of “tide” most people think about today, a periodic rise in sea level, seems to derive from the time sense of “tide.” “Ebb tide,” for example, would originally have had the sense of “time of ebbing.” The ancient phrase, “time and tide wait for no man,” would have been a double reference to a period of time, not a reference to time and the movement of waters.