Semiotics of the Silly Season

Every year the UK is visited by a fifth season: the Silly Season.  It occurs in the summer, especially when parliament is in recess, the football not happening and kids are off school. Typically, with nothing much happening and with business activity of most kinds on the wane, the news media go wild-and-inventive rather than the usual (ahem) sober-and-accurate, hence the silly label.

If you thought this was a quirk of British culture, think again. In Germany they have the sommerloch (the “summer  hole”); in France it’s la morte-saison (“the dead season”); Sweden has a nyhetstorka (“news drought”); in Spain there is the serpiente de verano or “summer snake”, a reference to the news item itself; while in Finland they have mätäkuun juttu, literally a “rotting-month story”.

Bafflingly, many cultures also refer to this summer slump using the image of a pickled cucumber or gherkin. In Norway, news at this time is called agurknytt or agurknyhet, literally “cucumber news”, while the period as a whole is labelled “cucumber season” or “cucumber time” in the Czech Republic (okurková sezóna), Slovakia (uhorková sezóna), Poland (Sezon ogórkowy), Hungary (uborkaszezo), and Germany (sauregurkenzeit). While this pickled characterisation is unknown in Britain, it surely rings true. The gherkin is a lowly foodstuff known for its superfluity (to a great many burger eaters).


It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon; but is it one that brands have capitalised on? Not very much. The reason is obvious: the dominant meaning of the word “silly” is negative. Who wants to be associated with notions like inane, trivial, juvenile, irrelevant and shallow?

But silliness evokes another set of meanings, including fun, playful, childlike, expressive and innocent. Could a brand take explicit ownership of the Silly Season and thus communicate more positive values like these once a year and on an ongoing basis? You bet. Probably go easy on the gherkins, though.

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