On Sept. 1, 2023, the Los Angeles Times ran a story titled “Hot labor summer, by the numbers.” Less than a week later, on Sept. 5, the New York Times featured a piece called “California’s Hot Labor Summer is not over yet.” And on Sept. 6, Alabama NPR station WBHM published a story called “Gulf South’s ‘Hot Labor Summer’ is heating up heading into the fall.” As I mentioned in the last Vibe Shift column, this type of use is a sure sign that a phrase or construction has become cringe, but the media just can’t help themselves… they want a Hot Labor Fall, and maybe even a Hot Labor Winter.
Since the incomparable Megan Thee Stallion blessed us with the single “Hot Girl Summer” in August 2019, the construction has gotten a lot of traction. We’ve seen Plot Girl Summer, considered Social Anxiety Autumn, and even witnessed the anti-Hot Girl Summer, Christian Girl Autumn.
But why is this construction so productive, especially in headlines? One answer may lie in the timing of the release of Meg’s original single. While it was a certified banger, peaking at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, August is a little bit late for the release of a summer seasonal anthem. But the song resurged in popularity again in 2020, with fans across the internet proclaiming the real Hot Girl Summer – perhaps hopefully, given that the spring of that year was definitely not a fun time.
Sure enough, in Summer 2020 many locations saw a temporary dip in Covid cases, and the warm weather made it easier to do outdoor activities, which carried a lower risk of respiratory virus transmission. People were excited to go be hot outside of their homes, instead of just online! When vaccines gained wide distribution in Spring 2021, hope for yet another hot summer returned. This time it was “Hot Vax Summer,” and many people took advantage, with flight prices and hotel bookings surging. Every summer since then, “Hot Girl Summer” has made a comeback in the headlines.
Meanwhile, “Hot [Noun] [Season]” seems to have taken on a life of its own. As the rare example of a coinage that we can actually trace to a specific moment, it marks us as firmly post-2019, and places us in a (late?) pandemic zeitgeist. There was no Hot Girl Summer before then, so if a journalist wants to sound “modern” and “trendy,” the use of this construction at least tells us they’ve been paying some sort of attention for the past four years. We’ve had the use of “hot” for anything that is hip, happening, or sexy for a very long time, which explains its productivity; it’s just a useful piece of generic slang! And it’s important that the final element of these phrases is always a season; that means the various permutations of the phrase are limited to specific types of temporarily-constrained phenomena.
The middle word in the phrase is the piece that carries the most unique meaning, and allows for headline writers to go wild. So as we move further into Spooky Season and the American Labor movement sees a dramatic increase in support and public interest, it kind of does make sense to refer to the current moment as Hot Labor Fall. The actors have been on strike since Spring, with the writers’ only recently ending; the UAW started a strike in mid-September, and thousands of nurses in California are threatening picket line demonstrations as well. All of these actions are part of a broader, seasonal and political movement unique to 2023… and we’ll see what new permutations these writers come up with once we get to Summer 2024!
Vibe Shift is a column by linguist Nicole Holliday that examines how words and phrases are moving across the internet. Each month, we’ll explore new topics related to how the language and culture are changing.