It is September and, here in the southern hemisphere, it is formally springtime. Although it is the ninth month of the year, the month’s name originally comes from the Latin word septem, which means seven. If it is all a bit confusing, one can maybe understand that, at least in the Western Cape, the gods of the seasons also don’t seem to have caught on yet that it is time for the weather to change.
The last four months of the year, although no longer accurate in terms of numbers, are Latin leftovers from the original Roman calendar, those being octo (eight), novem (nine) and ten.
The word season came to English via the Old French word seson, which described a time of sowing, from the Latin noun satio, sationis, which literally means 'seed-time'. In other words, the seasons tell farmers what time of the year to sow what.
Spring, which is generally regarded as the first of the four phases of nature’s annual cycle when new plants spring up after a harsh winter, derives its name from the Old English word springan, which means to leap, burst forth or fly up.
As a description of the first season of the year, spring started to appear in English during the 1500s in expressions like “spring of the leaf" and "spring time of the year" to describe the changes taking place all around in nature. Over time, it became shortened to first 'spring-time' and later just to spring.
Summer, as the name of our second season, originally came to English as sumor from the Germanic word sumur meaning a time for lots of sunshine.
The original name for the next season came straight from the world of agriculture and was called 'harvest'. It arrived in Old English originally as haerfest from the Germanic root word kharbitas, meaning to gather or pluck. The time when the fruits of the summer’s toil in the fields were gathered in to be stored for the next cold season.
The original name for autumn, as it is known today, lived on in most other Germanic languages in words like herbst in German and herfs in Afrikaans.
To date, etymologists have not been able to pin down the origins of the word 'autumn' with certainty. The best guess is that it developed from the Latin word autumnus, meaning: the time of plenty. That would be the time when the harvest is in for the winter ahead.
Our fourth season is the one characterised in much of the world by windy and wet weather, hence the name winter, with wentruz as its Germanic root. But winter may also go way back to the Proto-Indo-European word *ueid, from which we also get the Celtic word white as in the colour of snow.
Spring and Lent
As we enter springtime it is appropriate to note that the original name for this season, in English was also lencten, lengten or Lenten, a word that is related to our word long. It probably comes from the Germanic word langiton used about 2 000 years ago for that time of year when the sun's path was noticeably higher in the sky and daylight lengthened.
In English the word survived in words like Lenten or Lent. It is now most commonly associated with the Christian Lenten holidays which take place during springtime, although it was originally only a season's name.
English is the only Germanic language in which a word related to the word Lenten developed a Christian religious association while as a name for the season it was used in several other West Germanic languages.
To this day it survives as such in Modern Dutch and Afrikaans.