A Word for Wednesday: Seasons

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Following the inevitably short-lived spell of wonderful weather we had in the UK this Bank Holiday, it seems only fitting that this week’s blog is weather-related! Just one slight twist, instead of looking into one just word, we’ll be looking into four…

The seasons: four cyclic subdivisions of our calendar year that mark shifts in hours of sunlight, the weather and nature.

But why the names 'spring', 'summer', 'autumn' and 'winter'?

In the 14th century, what we now know as 'spring' was called 'springing-time', presumably a reference to the blossoming of plant life; the spring of the leaf.
Through the centuries, the expression was shortened and by the 16th century we arrived at just 'spring'.

The word 'summer' derives from the Old Norse 'sumarsdag', a time for sunshine - pretty mundane right? The word evolved into Old English 'sumor' through into today’s form of the word.

'Autumn' is an interesting one since, as you probably know, we have two accepted and widely used terms for the season - 'autumn' and 'fall'.

Although 'autumn' is used much more frequently in the UK, 'fall' is actually the old English name for the season so arguments that the term ‘fall’ is improper are poorly founded!

The thinking behind the term 'fall' is pretty much self-explanatory: the leaves falling from the trees, the fall in temperature and so on.

Autumn’s etymology is a little more ambiguous making its way into English via the French 'automne'. Uses of the word autumn date as far back as the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

There are possible ties to other cultures here; for instance 'áušti' means ‘to cool off’ in Lithuanian. The etymology of the word 'autumn' appears relatively vague and under-researched so we’d love to hear anything you might know about its history!

The final word in our quartet of seasons is winter. The word supposedly originates from the Proto-Germanic (a European proto-language traceable to 500BC) 'Wentruz'.

Since Proto-Germanic descends from an even older language known as PIE or Proto-Indo-European we can have a pretty good guess at the meaning of the word winter. A popular suggestion is that it comes from the word 'wind' meaning 'white'.

It’s astonishing how the four seasons have established and held their names millennia after millennia and I can’t see them changing anytime soon.

Hugh MacDermott


29 May 2013
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