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Today, as I was standing à la caisse (at the checkout/cashier) to pay for my groceries, la cassière (the cashier) mentioned that she couldn’t believe all the back-to-school ads she saw all over the place. “Summer isn’t over!” she opined. I agreed heartily with her…but then I realized that next week will already be August. How the summer flies!
In French, the word for the month of August is août. This comes from the Latin word augustus, which evolved into the old French aoust. The circonflexe in French typically signals that there was previously an “s” in an earlier version of the word (for more about accents, including the circonflexe, click here). Of course, the original root of the word dates back to the Roman Empire, when the emperor Augustus decided to rename the Roman month sextilis after himself! (Of course, changing the names of months or switching up calendars is not rare; check out Tim’s post about the origin of the French revolutionary calendar here).
August is known as le mois de la moisson. What is la moisson? Moisson means “harvest,” and refers to the reaping of crops toward the end of the summer. Take a look at this verse by the Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren in his poem Les Villes tenaculaires (1895):
“Dites! L’ancien labeur pacifique, dans l’août Des seigles mûrs et des avoines rousses, Avec les bras au clair, le front debout Dans l’or des blés qui se retrousse Vers l’horizon torride où le silence bout.”
(See below for vocabulary words to help you decipher these verses)
But, in French, as in English, there are many derivations of the word août. And typically these derivations are associated with August’s familiar activities—including harvesting produce and taking vacation. For example, l’aoûtat is a kind of harvest mite that eats mature crops (and, thus, appears in August). And the word aoûtien literally means “someone who goes on vacation in August.” Can you think of any derivations of the English word “August” (or for any other months)?
Happy (early) August to all. Don’t worry, the summer isn’t winding down just yet.
mûrs—mature or ripe