Word Nerd: Spring fever

21 Mar

Spring means many things to many people: cute little lambs frolicking about, flowers, spring fever, Easter…. For people who suffer from pollen allergies, it may mean staggering about in an anti-histamine stupor. For couch potatoes, it means this:

spring-has-sprungAbove: Spring has sprung, and a couch prepares for rebirth

Of course, “spring” can also mean a natural water source, to leap or appear suddenly (“a light from the shadows shall spring”), to pay a lot of money (“the boss is going to spring for lunch”), or to release or set off something (“spring a trap”).

The origin of the word seems unexpectedly mysterious, when you consider how different the English name for the season is from the words in related languages. Much of the English language has roots in German and Latin, but the German word for spring is Frühling (früh means early), and the Latin one is ver. The Italian word for spring, primavera, is more familiar, because it often features in restaurant menus. In Latin, primum ver means “earliest spring”.

Ever wonder why the English word “spring” has so many meanings? At the root of many of them is the idea of something rising, often suddenly. Many meanings are derived from this sense of “spring”, including the foam-covered metal coils that keep you comfy when you watch TV.

The beginning of spring is called the “vernal equinox”. This one is easy to figure out. Vernal is an adjective derived from the Latin ver, and just means anything spring-related.

Melting-snow-and-rain-often-gather-in-vernal-poolsAbove: Melting snow and rain often gather in vernal pools like this one in Pennsylvania (photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli, used under CC BY 2.0 licence)

The word “equinox” is easy to figure out if you think of the word “nocturnal”. Noctis and nox both mean night in Latin, and the equinoxes are the only times in the year when day and night are of the same duration.

Iranians of all faiths, including our own Parsis, celebrate the vernal equinox, which they call Nowruz (“new day”). Indeed, Nowruz is celebrated all the way from Iran to India, and other places where the Persian and central Asian diasporas live. This year, Nowruz fell on Sunday, March 20 – belated Nowruz Mubarak!

Here’s my favourite spring fever song. Got one of your own to share? Post a comment below, or tweet to @braingainmag!

BY: Uma Asher

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