Let Spring...Spring! Or Has It Already Sprung?
Is it spring yet? In the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical State Fair, the love-sick ingenue sings, "Oh, why should I have spring fever, when it isn't even spring?" Symptoms of this pseudo-illness, which entered English in the mid-1800s, go in two opposite directions: a sense of lethargy associated with the season change, or a new-found energy after being confined mostly indoors for the winter. In Old English, and even as late as the 1300s, Lent was used to refer to the post-winter season, though by the end of the 14th century, spring had firmly taken its place. As spring springs, let's check out some of the great words of the season!
Although you might think of "prim and proper" first, primrose ultimately comes from the Medieval Latin prima rosa—it literally means "first rose," because it blooms so early in the springtime! Despite the literal translation of its name, the primrose, which entered English in the first half of the fifteenth century, isn't a rose at all. But it is edible, and its flowers can be made into wine. You might also recognize Primrose as a name thanks to the dystopian Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Primrose Everdeen is the name of the main character's cherished kid sister.
Do you have your tricks ready? You're part of a long tradition. Pranks executed on the first of April began occurring in continental Europe as early as the mid-1600s, crossing over to the English-speaking world in the late seventeenth century. The targets of these jokes were called April fools. Traditions vary worldwide; in France, the term poisson d'avril, which literally means "fish of April," describes a trick in which the prankster discretely pins a paper fish to the back of an unknowing victim's shirt on April 1st. Get your construction paper and scissors ready...not sure what type of pins to use, though.
Equinox came to English from the Medieval Latin equi- + noct meaning "equally of night (and day)." Twice a year, once around late March and once in late September, the sun's path crosses the equator, making the length of day and night about the same. The equinox occurring in March is sometimes referred to as the vernal equinox using the Latin root ver meaning "spring." Of course, that's only for the northern hemisphere. March in the southern hemisphere is autumn, with winter starting up in June.
Beltane, an ancient Celtic festival, comes to English from the Gaelic word bealltainn which means "May 1st." Traditionally, large bonfires would be lit to celebrate the transition from spring to summer, usually in areas dense with people of Celtic ancestry. Perhaps the most notable blowout of this kind is the annual Beltane Fire Festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland. In modern times the neo-pagan community, often associated with the art of fire dancing, has embraced the Beltane festivities.
The fifth month of the year, which has been around since Old English was spoken, is thought to have gotten its name from the Roman earth goddess, Maia. The holiday May Day falls on the first day of May, giving people a chance to celebrate spring with fun outdoor activities, including dancing around a maypole. Don't confuse May Day with the distress call mayday used by ships and airplanes. This more bleak sense came to English in the early 1900s from the French m'aidez, which means "help me!"
Primaveral hails from the Latin prima vera, meaning "prime of springtime." This word shares its root with the Italian dish pasta primavera: pasta served with fresh vegetables (yum). In the 1300s through the 1500s vere-time, or more simply vere, was another way to say springtime, though both of those expressions are now obsolete. Another adjective which shares a root with primaveral is vernal, which entered English in the 16th century. Vernal Fall is an impressive water fall in Yosemite National Park, and is an amazing place to enjoy primaveral sights.
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