I have just become aware of a popular trend in seasonal nomenclature that threatens to upend millennia of tradition and, more importantly, thumbs its nose at my personal preference. It concerns the term by which we ought to refer to today’s astronomical event, when the center of the sun can be seen to pass directly overhead (90° off the horizon) as observed at the equator, thus signaling a change of season. It is my habit to call this occurrence the Autumnal Equinox. I also accept the use of Fall Equinox, inasmuch as autumn and fall are synonyms. However, there is a movement afoot to hereby replace those cherished monikers with September Equinox.
This is apparently the term that is preferred by many astronomers and other scientists, and in that particular regard, it is a reasonable replacement, for it is more precise. After all, one hemisphere’s Autumnal Equinox is another hemisphere’s Vernal Equinox, and scientific terminology demands the absence of ambiguity. Fair enough. You scientists may exercise your right to specificity, and I may carry on using a name that works for me and everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere. But do a little poking around on the Internet, and you’ll find some members of the lay public adopting September Equinox for a totally different reason. Far from desiring scientific precision, they advocate the term because to do otherwise would be to exhibit Northern Hemisphere bias. That is, they do not wish to offend the people of the Southern Hemisphere by implying that their commencement of spring is any less valid than our start of fall. With September Equinox, we may all share the same celestial event while respecting our geographical differences.
It’s that sort of thinking that has given the phrase political correctness such a negative connotation. One can almost imagine the shocked look on the face of a repentant Northern Hemispherean who has just confronted his own geographical bigotry. “Honey,” he calls out from behind his laptop, “we have to stop saying Autumnal Equinox; it’s biased!”
Likewise, we may envision a noble resident of the disrespected Southern Hemisphere, his hands clenched with indignation at the injustice that his people have suffered for generations. “Arrogant Northern Hemisphere!” he grouses. “One day, we shall throw off our oppression and rise to the senior editorship of every major world atlas!”
The inescapable truth of the situation is the fact that the Northern Hemisphere dominates world culture, not due to some malevolent preservation of colonial exploitation but rather as a function of its greater land mass and population. About two-thirds of our planet’s land area and nearly ninety percent of its human beings are located in the Northern Hemisphere. This is not to discount the roughly 800 million people who live south of the equator. However, I find it hard to believe that they are at all fazed by the use of Autumnal Equinox in foreign publications as a means to describe what they, themselves, know to be the Vernal Equinox.
Besides, by homogenizing the name of one seasonal harbinger for global consumption, consequently we must do the same for the others. Goodbye Winter Solstice, Vernal Equinox, and Summer Solstice. A lukewarm hello to the bland December Solstice, March Equinox, and June Solstice. Bleh.
We might just as well argue that the beleaguered citizens of the Southern Hemisphere are historical victims of a tyrannical cartographic bias that places the cardinal direction of north in a position of supremacy while condemning all that is southern to the bottom half of every map. Having thus recognized our norcentrism, we could then propose that mapmakers rotate their compass rose by 90° on a quarterly basis, ensuring that all hemispheres have their turn at the top of the charts. It would certainly make for more interesting forecasts on The Weather Channel.
And why stop there? Once we have liberated the peoples of the Earth from our directional biases, we might wrest away the coveted longitudinal designation of 0° from Greenwich, England and the rest of their arrogant ilk who live along the same line. I mean, really, who are they to lay claim to what is essentially the equator of longitude? It was an arbitrary decision! It’s high time for the rest of the world to stand up and demand their fair share. From this point forward, Greenwich Mean Time will rotate one degree each day, allowing everyone the thrill of living along a line of international chronological reference. Because there are only 360° to share, that will leave us with five extra days at the end of the year. As a symbol of global goodwill, the marking of time will be suspended during this interval, a worldwide festival complete with the exchange of gifts honoring our recognition that no region is better than another.
Also, may we be cognizant of the fact that our annual celebration of the so-called new year is rooted in a strictly geocentric perspective that totally ignores the orbital cycles of our neighboring planets. Mercury, for example, makes four complete circuits and then some in the same amount of time that it takes us to go around the sun once, but you don’t hear them crowing about it. Or take Saturn. Isn’t it bad enough to constantly be referred to as a gas giant? Yet it takes the ringed planet over 29 of our “years” just to get around the sun once, while here we are throwing parties over and over again. And don’t get me started about Pluto.
So if we really want to beat ourselves up over how we might be inadvertently offending various pockets of our planet and its surrounding universe, the good news is that the self-flagellation might go on into perpetuity. As for me, I shall watch the sun rise due east this morning, observe its due west descent this evening, and gladly tug on a jacket to welcome my favorite season. And though my southern brethren are heralding the arrival of spring, I will boldly declare this to be the day of the Autumnal Equinox.