It is Spring! C’est le printemps!
|Claude Monet "Printemps" (1872). Oil on canvas. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA.|
What is the origin of the word “printemps” and why is it so different to the english word “spring”, when “automne” is so close to “autumn”?
The word “printemps” originally from Latin “primus tempus” (first time, first season) has been in use in Old French together with its variants “printans”, “tamps prim” and later “prime vère” from the 12th century. Nowadays only the word “printemps” remains in use in French to designate the season while the word “primevère” relates exclusively to the primrose flower.
In English, various forms of the word “spring” are found in many Germanic languages and can be traced back to the ancient root “sprengh”, meaning "rapid movement." In the 15th and 16th centuries, such expressions as “spring of the leaf”, “spring of the year” and “spring-time” came into use to describe the season after winter and before summer—the period of the year when new growth "burst forth." In time, these expressions were shortened to simply “spring”. However, the connection with Old French is evident when looking in 15th century England, when the season also was called “prime-temps”, after Old French “prin tans”, “tamps prim” (French: “printemps”) as previously mentioned.
In French, in the figurative sense, “printemps” means young age. The expression « être au printemps de sa vie » means to be young. You will often hear family members, with a little touch of humour, celebrating their grandmother or aunt’s advanced age with expressions such as "cette jeune demoiselle vient de fêter ses 90 printemps »: this young lady has just celebrated her 90th birthday! Ah oui, les Français sont des charmeurs!