Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Another Song For Spring

Now this is just spooky. Here comes a linguistic poem. After all this linguistic writing here comes an irregular verb. *Spring* is both a verb and a noun. It is one of those words. It is very old and mostly unchanged in its form.

As a noun, it reaches back to *gispring*, Old High German for a spring, probably as in a flowing spring of water, as in melted, as in not winter. As a verb it reaches back to Old Norse as *springa* meaning spring in the sense of to jump.

Then in this context the linguists draw in a Greek related word (this is a not at all the same language group but also comes from the ancestor language, showing that *spr* is the ancestor root of the idea of *to jump*. To anchor this, the *spr* connection to *jump* is also found in Sanskrit (the ancient language of India) as the thought behind what we desire. Jump is behind what we desire in the sense of how we are drawn to what we desire and may jump toward it or across something to get it. Thus movement demonstrates and stands as proof of the presence of desire.

The word has been around a really long time, and linguists will tell you that this means to jump is a core concept, so important that our cultural memory keeps the word basically intact. Spring jumps forth from winter. The earth desires the return of life and melts the ice to this end, and the spring flows. This means that the parent Indo-European language of over five thousand years ago or longer comes out of sharply seasonal annual cycles, connected to the ice melt. I just love this stuff. *Spring* is what you would call a conserved word, which is why it is now an irregular verb.

*Spring* is so old that it has a very large number of usages and meanings now. It takes a full dictionary page plus another full column and a third (my dictionary has three columns of very small print per page) to deal with every form and context of spring. I need a magnifying glass to read these words.

I swear to you guys, I did not plan this.

As for towhead, I was born a blonde, with straight hair. It turned brown and sharply waved and almost curly as I approached puberty. Then it slowly lost the wave as I aged. I had lost the wave by the age of 38. Now it is thinning but at 64 still a full head of straight brown (no red in it, not auburn) hair with only a few gray hairs. However my beard is almost completely gray. Never mind about the rest.

Another Song For Spring

On the trampoline
as if I could do these things
now, now, now, no more,
far too gone (said right
don't quibble with it, nor with
springs springing, sprang sprung)

In the sun like that,
like the child I once really
was, a true towhead.

March 22, 2009 9:47 PM


  1. Christopher........
    A man of words on many levels...definitely. Love the mental image of the boy who is the true toehead. I can see that one easily.

  2. I like the directive not to quibble, anticipating the readers' reaction of springing to your defense out of courteousness. Spring, sprang, sprung. I like it.

  3. Linda, :) I like trying to figure out what a toehead would look like. Maybe a little like a footface. Probably have a belly arm and a back heart too. :D

    Karen, this is where the limits of language get tangled, this stepping out of the poem in the poem, then back in even though I was never really out, but the poem itself an example of the rest of the post, or the subject of the post, or did I write any of it even. The title says it is about spring, then the poem springs, but is that a jump or more like a little gush of meltwater? If it is all of this at once, then the power of language is indeed magical, a discovered country.

    This discovery is so ancient it may actually predate us, the first true human already stumbling into the created wildness of words, on the lookout for prey and predator both - all long before the Tower of Babel.

  4. Cor! More linguistics for me to nibble?

    I shan't quibble, I promise. But I do want to say that poets have the unique ability to bring to life all the sound symbolism that is encoded into language in the first place. I like this "spr-" because even the articulation of it leaps right off the tongue, and think how many other words echo that energy: spray, sprint, spree, spry, sprite... (I guess "sprawl" and "spread" don't do so well, alas.)

    And I hate that it's considered "irregular" by grammarians, because the i-a-u pattern (ablaut) makes perfect sense once you learn it. So it doesn't end in -ed, big deal. There's this theory that as the vowels move back in the mouth, you're reflecting the move from present to past to pluperfect in the verb, and that's where Germanic got it from... might not be true, but hey, more sound symbolic stuff.

    OK, I'm done, I promise. Love the poem. You have to stop doing this to me. :)

  5. No it's fine, good friend. You are exactly right, of course. Irregular is not irregular but another kind regularity. The whole language of which that tense change was a part was no chaos. It is "irregular" because this way of changing tense is a remnant with only a few key words in it. It is perfectly regular as its own system. No new words in English take this old form however. We native speakers don't hanker back to those days and decide some new verb will become frizzerink, frizzerank, frizzerunk, like sink, sank, sunk. Neither do we change this core concept *sink* from its old so-called irregular ways. *Sinked* just doesn't sound right, even though it is as easy to say.

    You can change verb and noun usage in many ways. You can use prefix, suffix and vowel and consonent change. You can add *click* sounds too. Child (singular). Children (plural). That's another key concept that will not change form because it is too important a concept to suffer the change to childs. However some pidgins do that.

    You have noticed that, Joseph, haven't you? The irregulars are not less important words, but more important?

    Why do we have to stop doing this? The only reason I can think of is we are revealing the ways the magic works. I guess you can't be a poet from learning the liguistics but I bet you get to be a better poet that way.

    See, it makes perfect sense to me that you have this wealth in your pocket. You are one terrific poet. I will stop soon, I think because I have no grad student's fuller knowledge. I can't write the book. I have, however, learned my few lessons really well. I surely love walking around my language fairly conscious of where it comes from. I love there are so many sources of English, that they are historical and traceable.

    I guess it's coming close to time for me to take these courses again, to pick up and anchor more.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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