SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 2 Contents Letters to the Editor

Spring’s Springiness Springs Springingly:
Putting a SpecGrammy Spring in Your Linguistic Step This Spring

By Curled Up Coiled Up Editors, Spree Ng and B. D. Oing

[Our previous foray into hyping up the ‘season of renewal’ went so well that we felt compelled to do it again. However, rather than exclude our Antipodean friends (... and readers (... and subscribers (... and paying subscribers)))as all too often happenswe have decided this year to hype up the more southern instantiation of the long-awaited and surely much-anticipated rejuvenation of nature, while our Hyperborean friends (... etc.) prepare to ease into autumn and/or fall. Enjoy! —Eds.]

Spring is here, sper-ring is here!’ warbled Tom Lehrer in one of his less repetitive lines.1 Now, quoting a Lehrer lyric at the start of an article is always good writing practice as the prose can then only get better. However, on this occasion, the specific choice of line leads directly into the theme of today’s editorial, which we shall now spring upon you: it’s Spring!

Spring is indeed here; but spring has for millennia been amongst those of us who reckon ourselves the linguistic descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans.2 Along with begin, began, begun and sing, sang, sung, verbal spring, sprang, sprung has maintained a well-defended ablaut citadel since well before it arrived on the shores of England, Angland, Ongland. It’s even more recognisable in cognate languages than de hand voor je neus midden op de dag:3 English verbal spring is Frisian springe, German springen and Dutch springen, the last of which, being a strong class III verb, nearly got a 2:2.

Benvenuto Terracini, 1963, Lingua libera e libertà linguistica; introduzione alla linguistica storica, Torino, Einaudi, Torino.

Chiasmus of the Month
September 2022

Now, were we merely morphologically minded and etymologically oriented at SpecGram, we might just leave it there, with a nod to the strong verb, cross-Germanic symmetries of this light-on-its-delicate-feet little lexeme. But we never do things by halves at SpecGram!4 So, let’s celebrate Springtime by springing full-tilt into a collocationally nuanced, polysemously corpus-informed, and grammatically cyber-enhanced analy-springin’-sis of spring.

Word categories first, as nanny used to say.5 From bare verbal spring we get the particle verbs spring upwhich is what young love doesand spring outwhich is what the private investigator who gets hired five years later does from the wardrobe to catch the once-doting partner in flagrante with the neighbour. But by this time, offspring have often been introduced into the equation, who will constitute the mainspring of the consumption of one’s energy, time and money henceforth, leaving one to forfeit any residual springiness one may once have had.

In the nominal world,6 concrete noun spring (as in, ‘We’ve got spring E on the hidden trapdoor working again, Barbara!’) is the mechanical cousin to geographical ‘another cow has drowned in the spring’, the first of which metaphorises into ‘I had a spring in my step before I fell down the steps’, the second of which suggests that a bridge should be constructed. Then there’s the adjective springy, which, for those of us like Barbara with hidden trapdoors, is not to be confused with spring E. And last but not least, as a proper noun, our lexeme turns up in that current, most optimistic of seasons, Spring. Which neatly explains why its autumnal antithesis is known as Fall.

In Collocationland, chefs cook with spring onions, maritime captains sail on spring tides, and generals plan spring offensives. The last of these is so-named as soldiers have so much more of a spring in their step in Spring, be they charging across No Man’s Land in northern France in the early 20th century, or avoiding IEDs in half-flattened cities in the early 21st. And those who return uninjured to base can relax watching the Springboks play a little rugby, or perhaps join the platoon DIY Engineering Club and enjoy harnessing the power of running water by making a spring box.7 Even in the carnage of war, hope springs eternal with a little help from ballgames and do-it-yourself hydro-engineering!

Spring springs ever more surprises; it’s the gift that keeps on springing. We’ll skip over the Middle English use of spring as a trap because, well, it’s just Middle English, isn’t it? What we won’t skip over, however, or spring over for that matter, is wishing you, readerwhether you’re a spring chicken or about to fall off this mortal spring coila very springy Springtime, in which you spring into action with a springiness which allows you to spring springily over the meandering springs and gentle rivulets that spring forth before you this Spring.

Let’s finish, of course, with a poemette:

SpecGram is a truly wonderful thing:
It puts a little linguistic spring
Into everyone’s step. Spring, sprang, sprung!
Keep reading, reader: the funnies have just begun!

1 The opening line, no less, of ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,’ the thrust of which was later reworked in ‘Suffering Satirists on the Stage.’

2 Reader warning: serious linguistic comment follows. So it’s Gmc springen from PIE *sprengh- (nasal form of root *spergh- ‘to move, hasten, spring’) cognate with Sanskrit sprhayati ‘desires eagerly’ and Greek sperhesthai ‘to hurry’. Phew (from aspirated *phew- ‘to feel release’), that’s the lurnin’ done with; let’s spring back to the text!

3 Ça veut dire, ‘la main devant votre nez au milieu de la journée.’ Or, to clarify further, ‘рука перед носом посеред дня.’

4 We never do things at SpecGram.

5 Or was it ‘bird-catty gories’? Anyway, there were lots of dead avians and rather overweight felines around when we were toddlers.

6 i.e., not the real world.

7 Although if electing to engage in combat in desert conditions, a spring of water might be hard to locate.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 2 Contents