This morning on my daily walk I saw my first swifts of the year. Perhaps summer has now arrived in this part of the Northern Hemisphere. It got me thinking about that other flighted indicator of summer the swallow and its related idiom:
One swallow doesn’t make a summer.
So what does it mean? As with many idioms, based within the context it is being used determines meaning. In my situation it was its literal meaning and I really took it to mean I needed to see more swifts (or swallows) before I could declare summer and get to the beach.
A broader interpretation of the idiom would be along the lines of do not base an event or outcome happening solely off one piece of information. So in my case I need to check weather patterns and queues at the ice cream parlours before making my summer declaration.
This idiom is can also be used as an expression to calm a seemingly good event to a more cautious outlook:
“Sales in December were up about 1 percent, which of course, is good news. One swallow, however, doesn’t make a summer and it remains to be seen whether they can maintain this growth in the difficult months ahead.”
As it’s an idiom it can also be used in the reverse:
“I’m really worried the boss is going to fire me. He said he really wasn’t happy with my work lately!”
“Calm down, one swallow doesn’t make a summer.”
Swallows (and swifts) are birds which migrate between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres to make sure they enjoy an all year summer lifestyle. The swallows arrive in Europe at the beginning of summer after spending the winter further south. It is not a seasonal idiom but as we tend to look less at nature these days its usage does seem to be on the decline.
Update: First swallow spotted 21st May. Summer has begun yet today it rains and no sunshine.