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Let's Look At The Language

June 4, 2011

June is bustin' out all over!

When "Carousel," the second stage musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945, the audience left the theater in buoyant spirits. Not at all disappointed by the talented team who had set their own bar ridiculously high with "Oklahoma!" just two years earlier, theatergoers were enthralled by the new show's score. Among the songs destined to be standards (including "If I Loved You" and "You'll Never Walk Alone"), the most rousing number of the evening was "June Is Bustin' Out All Over!"

For anyone familiar with long northeastern winters and the stubborn hesitations of spring, the joy of that song needs no explanation. Today is but four days into June, and already there's a palpable shift from one calendar page to the next. Just look around and it's true -- June really is bustin' out all over. Not that May failed to do its part -- indeed, the overnight frosts were obliterated and the trees were set abloom in grand fashion -- but where May leaves off, June takes over with even more panache.

June makes nature a busy place, and it's a small wonder that it has lent its name to things that grow (Juneberries), things that fly (June bugs), and things that swim (June suckers). Sadly, "June butter" is a term that is all but obsolete, but once it was known to mean "butter made in the month of June, regarded as being of particularly high quality." (If our doctors knew about this, they'd probably tell us to switch to something scrumptious like "June unsaturated nonhydrogenated soy lecithin.")

June makes the calendar a busy place, too. Not only is this Dairy Month (hey, why doesn't the National Dairy Council resurrect "June butter"?), it is also Great Outdoors Month (take a hike to a dairy farm), Adopt-a-Cat Month (bring a feline home to your great indoors), Drive Safe Month (keep those cats away from busy streets), Fruit and Vegetable Month (watch for cars pulling out of farm markets), Iced Tea Month (throw some peach slices in your Tetley), Rose Month (plant tea roses!), Safety Month (careful with those thorns), Tennis Month (don't play with Jimmy Connors), Potty Training Awareness Month (give a big baby a chance to grow up), and Turkey Lovers Month (try to explain to your little ones why this is not in November -- then please explain it to me).

Without a doubt, June enjoys a special reverence and popularity. As sportscaster Al Bernstein once wrote, "Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June." Brides and wedding planners have long agreed, and although the obvious reason for that would seem to be the expectation of glorious June weather, it should be noted that there is a traditional June connection to matrimony that runs a little deeper: June, the month, was named for Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. (Isn't it odd how so many of our modern practices, even the most religious ones, continue to have cultural and linguistic ties to mythological and pagan beliefs?)

Whatever praise of June may be sung, whatever tradition of June may be observed, it's possible that the purest affection for the month lies in the heart of every child who sits in a classroom in May and feels an irrepressible twinge of cheer at the very thought of June. Now that September is gaining ground as the new "wedding month," perhaps it's time to reinvent some of the language of Roman mythology and cast Juno as the goddess of summer vacations.     Edmeston resident Christine A. Lindberg, senior U.S. lexicographer for Oxford University Press, is the principal content editor of Oxford's American English dictionaries and thesauruses. Opinions expressed by Lindberg in this column are done so independently, and do not necessarily reflect the policies and practices of Oxford University Press.Have a question or comment relating to the English language? Email languagewithlindberg@gmail.com. Selected submissions will be answered here periodically. Her columns can be found online at www.thedailystar.com/language.

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