Where the Seasons Get Their Names
We bet you can guess the origin of "spring."
Do you remember when you first learned about the seasons? Spring, summer, fall, and winter are some of the first words we learn when we're little, but many of us don't know where the words originated. The seasons, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, are "any of four divisions of the year according to consistent annual changes in the weather." They're said to begin on the year's solstices and equinoxes; their names, however, have not always been constant throughout the centuries. Let's take a dive into the etymological origins of the seasons and learn a little bit about language along the way.
Unsurprisingly, the spring season gets its name from the verb "spring." It's a nod to the flowers and plants springing up, springing open, and bursting into blossom. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word itself derives from the Old English word "springan," which means "to leap, burst forth, fly up; spread, grow." It, in turn, developed from the Proto-Germanic "sprengan." During the 14th century, the word came to describe the spring season, indicating the time when plants rise from their winter dormancy and bloom. An apt name, don't you think? Prior to that, the word "Lent" was used to describe the season. Anatoly Liberman explains, "Today only the ecclesiastic sense of Lent is current, but in the past it was the main word for ‘spring.' Lent surfaced as ‘lencten,' that is, ‘lengten': the season got its name because in spring days lengthen."
We can't imagine summer being called anything else, can you? It never fails to conjure memories of sweltering days. Like spring, the hottest season of the year also gets its name from Old English and its linguistic ancestors. "Summer," as cited in Merriam-Webster, derives from the Middle English "sumer" and the Old English "sumor," which is connected to the German "sommer" and the Old High German and Old Norse "sumer." It is also related to the Sanskrit word "sama," which means "season" or "half-year." According to Anatoly Liberman, "summer" is also related to the Dutch "zomer" and the Icelandic "sumar." It is perhaps also echoed in Armenian; he writes, "If Armenian ‘amarn' ‘summer' (the transliteration has been simplified) is related to it, we get a glimpse of another sense of summer, because the Armenian word is a derivative of ‘am' ‘year'; summer emerges as ‘(time of) year.'"
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word "autumn" comes to us via the French "automne," Old French "autumpne," and Latin "autumnus." Its earlier origins are unclear. This season is also called fall (often) and harvest (sometimes). "Harvest" was a popular name for the season prior to the 16th century. That name derives from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning "gather" or "pluck," a nod to farming and the season's practice of gathering up crops. Anatoly Liberman describes, "‘[H]arvest' is related to Latin ‘carpere' ‘pluck' and Greek ‘karpós' ‘fruit.'" Fall, on the other hand, is likely connected to the cyclical falling of the leaves, another seasonal sight in the cooler months.
According to Merriam-Webster, the time of the deepest chill gets its name from Middle English, Old English, and Old High German. It's related to the Germanic words "wintar" and "wintruz," which also identify the year's coldest season. The word indicates, the Online Etymology Dictionary argues, "probably literally ‘the wet season.'" Its connection to water and wet is indicative of the environment of the season, of freezing rain, snow, and dropping temperatures. In this lineage, it perhaps traces back to the Proto-Indo-European root "wend-," which was used to convey "water" or something "wet."
To learn more about the seasons, read up on their origins and definitions at Encyclopaedia Britannica, and then learn the difference between meteorological and astronomical seasons at the National Centers for Environmental Information.
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What's your favorite season? We have to admit, we're partial to them all. What words would you like to learn the origins of?