Portraits of Wildflowers

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Spiderwort flowers in the shade

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Heavy shade behind the entrance building at McKinney Falls State Park on March 15th
led to this soft portrait of spiderwort flowers (Tradescantia sp.).

The vernal equinox for 2021 occurs today, so happy official beginning of spring to you. That English name for the season is the same word as the spring that means ‘jump up,’ because this new season is the time when plants spring up from the ground as the cold of winter fades. (That may sound like folk etymology, which is to say false etymology, but in this case it’s true.) English had earlier called the season lencten, the time when the days lengthen; the modern form of that word, Lent, became specialized as the name of the time in the spring that leads up to the Christian holiday of Easter. Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, and Italian call the spring primavera, and Romanian primăvară, literally ‘first spring,’ which is to say ‘early spring,’ from the Latin name of the season, vēr, and that’s why today is the vernal equinox. French calls spring printemps, literally ‘first time,’ and it is indeed a prime time for wildflowers. The Polish ophthalmologist L.L. Zamenhof, in creating the artificial language Esperanto, borrowed the French word in the form printempo. German calls spring Frühling, based on the früh that means ‘early.’ The Scandinavian languages call the season vår, a native cognate of Latin vēr. Now that you know all these words, there’s no excuse for not having some spring in your step today.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 20, 2021 at 4:39 AM

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