SpecGram Vol CLXXXIV, No 2 Contents Letters to the Editor

Springing into Spring

A Letter from Climatological Editor Ka-ed Krimkha

[Note: Readers in the southern hemisphere should just store this piece under their beds or in a handy closet for six months. Those near the equator can either rejoice, or bemoan their lack of real seasons. —Eds.]

Spring is in the air! Inch-by-inch, the rose-garlanded maiden who is the personification of the season of new life tenderly pulls back the black tarpaulin that the crotchety old git of Winter has laid down over the garden. And lo: there’s daffodils and stuff.

Roman Jakobson, 1968, “Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry,” Lingua 21, pp. 597–609.

Chiasmus of the Month
April 2019

Now personifications are all well and good in their place if you’re a “text linguist” or worse a “literature” person: but we’re linguists, and we deal in words, dontcha know! And so the thought arises, much as the new shoots of spring’s first plants poke their eager headlets out from beneath the warming earth: what goes with this word spring?

Strap in, SpecGram­matites: this one’s a roller coaster ride. Coz first up, spring is homonymous: spring the season, spring the rivulet and spring the coiled and flexible metal spiral struggle and fail to instantiate semantic connectedness: it’s a clear-cut case of one form, two meanings. But spring is no mere homonymous noun but a verb as well: linguists spring into action; words spring from our mouths; Anglicisms spring up (phrasal verb alert, cap’n!) in most if not all other languages, hastening their inevitable transformation into mere dialects of English. And not only that: spring is what the Anglo-Saxonists like to call a strong verb: it’s spring, sprang, sprung around here, boy and girls, not some weak verby springed! (And let’s not forget the adorable adjective springy conveying mattresses, waterbeds, and mass-produced four-piece lounge suites.)

As if there wasn’t enough custard and raspberry in this knickerbocker glory of spring, the cherry on the top is that this cluster of lexemes forms a glorious example of that second cousin of homonymy which sprang up earlier: polysemy in action. And let’s not forget the colourful idioms that spring has given us: “He’s no spring chicken”, “keep a spring in your step”, etc.

It seems that spring’s not just great for plants and flowers; it’s a microcosm of linguistic fun and learning. So, homonymically and polysemously, word categorically, and word formationally, metaphorico-personificationally, and of course idiomatically and phrasal verbally, have a super-special, SpecGrammy (and springy) spring.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLXXXIV, No 2 Contents