It’s cucumber time! Why the Silly Season is so important

Rocked as we are with news of war, gun violence, inflation, inequality, wildfires, heatwaves, and persistent COVID-19 variants, many of us may long for an end-of-summer slowdown known to some as the Silly Season. But does our always-on news environment allow for any time off? Is the Silly Season passing into the faded annals of history? I surveyed my colleagues here at Leff and discovered that 90 percent of them had never heard of the Silly Season.

The term originated in the United Kingdom. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a first mention of “The Silly Season” in the Saturday Review, July 13, 1861. But the concept is not exclusively British. Other countries acknowledge it, though names for the season differ. In the southern hemisphere, the silliness arrives with the winter holiday season and its glut of social engagements and increased alcohol consumption. If you are a NASCAR fan, you’ll know it as the stretch between competitive seasons, when fans trade rumors and sports reporters speculate about shifts in team personnel.

In the Northern Hemisphere, however, the Silly Season is the late-summer slow-news period acknowledged across Europe, often by cucumber-related names:

  • North America: dog days of summer
  • France: la morte-saison (the dead season)
  • Sweden: nyhetstorka (news drought)
  • Germany: Sommerloch (summer [news]hole) or Sauregurkenzeit (pickled-cucumber season)
  • Croatia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, and Poland: it’s all about cukes!

In the north, historically, newsmakers (politicians, world leaders, celebrities) went on holiday, sipped drinks from hollowed-out pineapples, read their umpteenth John Grisham novel, or waxed nostalgic about the days when air horns on automobiles were legal. Lacking anything of substance to report, bored journalists reached for headlines about cockroaches ruining a domino-toppling event or bufo toads invading Palm Beach, Florida. But again, we now live in a world where dire news floods in daily. And who stops reading their news feed, even when they are lounging by the pool?

How do we retrieve those days of innocence, when we were expected to turn off and tune out for the month of August? And why should we bother?

Our society—at least in the United States—may never embrace a shared Silly Season. That doesn’t mean people can’t enjoy one on their own, whenever they grab some time to get away. A break from news and work is essential when our mental health is at stake. And what better time to start than in the dog days of summer? Clay Johnson, in his 2012 book The Information Diet, mimics Michael Pollan’s advice on food when he advises “Read, not too much, mostly facts.”

Just keep in mind that the facts we read during the Silly Season should be mostly geeky, goofy, or heartwarming—such as the science behind solar flares erupting from the photosphere, New York City’s squirrel census, the resurgence of koalas in New South Wales, or the endlessly fascinating ethical dilemma known as the Trolley Problem.

Tuning out isn’t just good for your mental health. Everything gets better when you make time to play. One company experimented with a mandatory week off at the end of every two months. The results: “creativity went up 33%, happiness levels rose 25%, and productivity increased 13%.” Business leaders are right to encourage their people to take paid time off and disconnect.

So whether at the beach or in your backyard, consider making time to get silly this summer. We need the break more than ever.

Mary Reddy

Before joining Leff as a senior adviser on data visualization, Mary spent more than 20 years as the data visualization editor for the McKinsey Quarterly, developing data stories for a wide range of industries and publication channels. She brought data insights, visual structure, and UI/UX considerations to static charts, interactives, infographics, multimedia, and conceptual frameworks. Mary studied visual communications at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has a B.A. in fine art from Loyola University, Chicago.

Leave a Reply