Until a week ago, I did not know this phrase. Singer-songwriter James McMurtry, son of two renowned wordsmiths, used it on stage but didn’t explain what the “old timers” meant by it. He has an ear for language that seems on the verge of disappearing.
Since I write this post on a day of Blackberry Winter, let’s explore the idea. First, I’m surprised that the OED has this regional colloquialism in its pages online. What the definition does not explain, however, concerns the usefulness of a day like today, that last cold-snap before the agony of our region’s hot, humid summer (I detest humidity and prefer cold weather to hot).
The term has its first recorded usage in the 19th Century, so it’s new by linguistic standards. But the idea is old: a late cold front reportedly can help blackberries “set” on their canes, to insure an abundant harvest. Readers can find other “little winters” discussed in this entry at a gardening blog.
I’m a minority in my preferences for cold and snow. So be it. I hope we’ll remember that a cold snap has salutary effects on our food supply, just as those humid July nights make certain a red tomato. If you only know food from the grocery store, it’s worth pondering. Here’s to our Blackberry Winters and Red-Tomato Summers.
If you want to hear McMurtry sing about a Blackberry Winter, here it is.
Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog? Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia