sunshine and rainbows!

If you look at your calendar tomorrow (as I write), it will probably say something like “first day of Summer.”

To which I reply, balderdash.

What tomorrow is (in the northern hemisphere) is the summer solstice; that is, the day when the sun is at its peak height in the sky (due to Earth’s being tilted about 23 degrees relative to the sun). Logically, if “summer” is the season defined by the sun being at its height, then “summer” should be the quarter of the year surrounding the solstice. That is, summer began about 45 days ago. June 21 is the peak of summer – its midpoint – not the beginning of summer. (This is, obviously, a northern-hemisphere -centric view. In the southern hemisphere, we’re talking about winter, and the sun’s lowest high point in the sky.) I’m not entirely sure how June 21 (the solstice) got to be the “official” beginning of summer (and what “office” is it that decrees such things?), but it makes no sense.

Some will argue: yeah, but the warm weather’s just starting now, and really, it goes on for another couple-three months, until autumn begins in September. Here, maybe: typical temperatures are obviously going to vary according to location. If we’re to have any consistency in terms of what season it is, local weather variations can’t have much to do with it. It makes far more sense to note that, astronomically, “summer” is defined by the sun’s highest point in the sky, while the warmest times of the year will vary according to location, geography, etc. (And of course, even in the northern hemisphere, not all places experience their warmest weather in June, July, or August.)

While I’m at it: how many colors in a rainbow? You’ll probably recall from your junior-high science classes that the answer is seven, and that the colors are, in order, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. You can remember that via the useful acronym “Roy G. Biv” (kind of a lousy acronym, actually, dependent as it is upon a naked initial in the middle). But really, the reason people need that acronym is that the “official” (one of the most abused words in the language) list of colors in the spectrum is a bit off. Here’s an experiment: outside the context of rainbows or spectra, ask people to name colors. They’ll almost certainly name red, green, and blue, maybe yellow (if they’re graphic artists they might say “cyan” and “magenta” instead: such people are extremely dangerous, and they should be shunned vigorously). They might say “orange.” It’s remotely possible they’ll say “violet.” But it’s almost a dead-certain bet they will not say “indigo.” Other than for fans of a folk-singing Atlanta-based lesbian duo, “indigo” is just plain not a common term. And of course, the rainbow does not neatly divide into seven colors, or any set number: it’s a continuous spectrum.

So why “Roy G. Biv”? Basically, because Isaac Newton was a mystical nutbar, in addition to his scientific brilliance. There needed to be seven colors, you see, because there were seven days of creation, yadda yadda yadda. If not for Isaac’s Bible jones, we probably wouldn’t even mention “indigo.” And those Georgia singers would be “The Purple Girls” or something.

The Rolling Stones “She’s a Rainbow” (Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967)
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia “The Seven Rays” (Another Live, 1975)
Camper Van Beethoven “June” (Key Lime Pie, 1989)

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4 Comments

Filed under grump, noise, thingness

4 responses to “sunshine and rainbows!

  1. Steve

    Logically, if “summer” is the season defined by the sun being at its height, then “summer” should be the quarter of the year surrounding the solstice.

    Conversely, since Summer is not the quarter of the year surrounding the solstice, it is also not the season defined by the sun being at it’s height.

    If I were splitting a calender into quarters, it seems logical to put the splits at the equinox and solstice points.. It’s all arbitrary anyway!

  2. 2fs

    Well, not entirely arbitrary: “summer,” if it means anything, refers to the hottest season of the year. Heat correlates to the height of the sun in the sky – and so there is an intrinsic connection between the common-language meaning of the word “summer” and the sun being at its height. And, in fact, many cultures do designate summer in the way I suggest.

  3. Anonymous

    Doesn’t European tradition also call the Summer Solstice, i.e., June 21-22 as “Mid-Summer’s Day”..? Which would mean exactly what 2fs is stating….as a Solstice fan, (Summer far more than Winter,) it makes a difference to me, as Mid-Summer would actually be August 4th…

    Sun arise…

    -valis

  4. Anonymous

    For the record: in the pagan traditions of ancient Europe, May 1st, (Beltane), was the beginning of summer. It marks the boundry between the planting season and the growing season. Fall thus begins at the beginning of the harvest, on about August 2.
    I believe that as various parts of Europe became Christianized, the Christians may have been the ones who changed the reckoning of the seasons, in an attempt to quash pagan worship and traditions.

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