Now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories. This program explores the history and usage of common expressions in American English.
Today we talk about a time when half the world is waking from the dark, cold winter months. Spring! We often describe spring as a time of rebirth, renewal and awakening. Many trees are blossoming and early flowers are pushing through the earth.
Things are coming to life!
When the weather turns warm, many people suffer from spring fever. Common “symptoms” of spring fever include not being able to focus on school or work, taking long walks, or falling in love.
So, are you actually sick when you have spring fever?
Originally, yes. Spring fever used to refer to an actual illness. When the weather turned warm, some people developed sore throats, headaches, or stuffy noses.
The definition of “spring fever” slowly changed in the early 1800s.
People came to use the term to mean a sudden increase of romantic feelings.
Elvis Presley describes this feeling in the song “Spring Fever.”
“Spring fever, comes to everyone. Spring fever, it's time for fun. There’s no doubt now, love is everywhere. Get up, get out, spring is everywhere”
These days, we use “spring fever” to describe a restless feeling after the long, cold days of winter.
But the word “spring” is not just a season. It is also a verb that means something happening or appearing quickly.
When you put “spring” and “life” together, you get spring to life. This expression means something suddenly becomes very active or perhaps seems more alive! You may spring to life after hearing that a distant friend will be visiting you. Or maybe your favorite soccer team finally sprang to life in the second half, played well, and won the match.
But this is just the beginning. There are so many more "spring" expressions that mean to happen suddenly.
Imagine that you are resting on the couch when suddenly you see a mouse run across the floor. You spring into action! You jump from the couch and run after the mouse! But you miss. So, that night you leave some cheese in a small device that will snap quickly: you want to spring a trap. And it works! But when you tell your roommate that you caught a mouse in a trap, tears spring from her eyes. You feel badly, but she really should have told you about her pet mouse Charlie!
After all, your apartment doesn’t allow pets. And you don’t want to get in trouble with your landlord. See, your neighborhood is finally turning into a really nice place to live. There are more places to eat and shop. In fact, stores, restaurants and cafés seem to have sprung up overnight! They moved in quickly.
As you can see, American English has so many phrases that use “spring” to mean "something happens quickly." The ones we have heard are just the ones that sprang to mind. In other words, they were the first ones I thought of, without spending much time thinking about it.
But perhaps those examples are confusing. Maybe I should have prepared you instead of just springing them on you. And, I did it again. If you spring something on other people, you have surprised them, usually not in a good way.
Let’s go back to the roommate story. Let’s say one day your roommate, the one with the pet mouse, says to you, “Oh, by the way, I’m still really upset about Charlie. So, I’m moving out tomorrow. You’ll have to find someone else to share the rent.”
You say to her, “You can’t just spring that on me! I’ll need time to find another roommate!”
But then you think about. Maybe it’s for the best. Every time you see her you feel guilty about Charlie, her pet mouse.
And anyway, she does something that really annoys you. She always expects you to buy her things: she wants you to spring for lunch, spring for movie tickets, and sometimes even spring for groceries.
When you spring for something, you pay for someone else.
This expression can also be an informal invitation. At work you can say to a colleague, “I have spring fever. Let’s leave early and go to an outdoor café. I’ll spring for coffee.”
Now, besides being a season and a verb, the noun “spring” refers to a metal coil that is wound tightly. When the coil unwinds, it often jumps. So, we often say a person has a spring in his step if he is lively and active. He might even appear to jump, or bounce, a little when he walks.
There is another way we use “spring” as a description.
In the case of a spring chicken, “spring” means young. Also called a “springer,” these young chickens have very tender meat. However, “spring chicken” is also an informal, humorous way to refer to someone who isn’t young at all. So, we use this expression in the negative form, as in “no spring chicken.”
For example, let’s say you know an 85-year old man who decides to run a marathon, even though he has never exercised before. You could say, “That’s amazing! After all, he’s no spring chicken.”
But be careful when using this expression. It could be a little disrespectful. Let’s say your boss shows you a picture of his wife, and you say, “Wow, she’s no spring chicken.” That response would be disrespectful and a bad career move.
We end this Words and Their Stories back on the season spring.
Here is a short poem by Oliver Herford titled “I Heard a Bird Sing.” It tells how a simple bird song brings a longing for spring during the month of December.
I Heard a Bird Sing
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
I’m Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
rebirth – n. a period of new life, growth, or activity
renewal – n. the state of being made new, fresh, or strong again : the state of being renewed
symptom – n. a change in the body or mind which indicates that a disease is present
imagine – v. to think of or create (something that is not real) in your mind
annoy – v. to disturb or irritate especially by repeated acts
coil – n. a long thin piece of material (such as a wire, string, or piece of hair) that is wound into circles
bounce – v. to move with a lot of energy and excitement
marathon – n. a footrace run on an open course usually of 26 miles 385 yards (42.2 kilometers); broadly : a long-distance race