Sure, it’s a cliché to get all filled up with poetic notions at the first sight of spring, but here we are. There is something about more birds and flowers and fewer scarves and gloves that seems to raise everyone’s spirits. It is, however, not the poetry of the season, but rather that of the word itself – spring – that I wish to talk about here.
Spring has evolved from springing time (and later spring time), which was used in the 14th century, and apparently came into use in the mid-16th century. The etymology is easy enough to derive from the word itself: it is the time when flowers and leaves spring up and out. The word spring then is an image of the visual nature of the season, it tells us what it looks like. Makes sense.
However, other languages seem to have less poetic approaches to spring; their words for the season are more often based on words like first and early, to indicate that it is the first season of the year.
The Italian primavera comes from prima vera which again is derived from the Latin primus ver, meaning first spring. A relative of the word ver is also used in modern English, namely vernal (‘of, in, or appropriate to spring’), as in the vernal equinox. Ver also seems to be related to the Norse vár, which has given us the Norwegian word for spring, vår.
French and German both name the season after the fact that it is the first of the year, the German frühling (spring) comes from the word früh, which means early. The French printemps comes from the Latin tempus primum and simply means first time. Likewise, the Danish vorår means early year (or even ‘pre-year’).
Whereas English describes what the season looks (smells and feels) like, the rest of the class seem more interested in the practical fact that it comes first. To me, though, spring seems to be a more practical word too, simply because we today have countries that follow the same calendar as us (i.e beginning with january), but don’t have spring until late in the year (Australia, among others).
And, mainly, I love a word that so perfectly describes what is happening: flowers, leaves, grass and life are all springing from the earth.