Spanish summer is etymologically out of whack

The previous post about primavera ‘spring’ discussed the word’s development as a feminine version of Late Latin primo vero ‘in the first part of the spring.’ The original Latin ver ‘spring’ must have extended into what we now call ‘summer,’ a fact that further justifies the felt need to distinguish the first part of that extended period from the latter part. For those later and hotter months, Vulgar Latin began to use the phrase veranum tempus, where tempus meant ‘time, season,’ and veranum was the adjective corresponding to ver ‘spring.’ Eventually, as happens often enough, the adjective alone came to carry the full semantic weight of the original phrase, with the result that the Spanish verano. came to be a word for ‘summer,’ or at least a part of it at first. In Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua española, Guido Gómes de Silva explains: “…en español, hasta el siglo XVI, la palabra primavera denotaba el principio de la primavera; verano, el final de la primavera y el principio del verano; y estío, el fin del verano.” Since then, estío and verano have become synonyms.

As an adjective corresponding to the new summery sense of verano, Spanish couldn’t use vernal, which stayed associated with the early part of the spring–summer continuum, so Spanish speakers created veraniego ‘pertaining to the summer.’ Because the heat during the hottest months can be debilitating, veraniego has added the sense ‘becoming sickly or mentally unstable in the summer.’ From verano Spanish has also created the one-letter-different verbs veranar ‘to spend the summer [anywhere]’ and veranear ‘to take a summer vacation away from home,’ as well as the noun veraneo ‘a summer vacation.’

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    May 11, 2015 @ 12:53:24

    I assume my time spent on the veranda is related. ??


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 11, 2015 @ 13:09:47

      I’m afraid not all that glitters is gold. Although you may be most likely to spend time on a veranda in summer, the word came into English from Hindi, which probably picked it up from Portuguese. You may recall that the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama and his crew were the first to sail directly from Europe to India, and after that the Portuguese established trading settlements in various places along the Indian coast:

      In any case, the Portuguese term that would have led to veranda wasn’t related to verão, its word for ‘summer.’


  2. Maria F.
    May 11, 2015 @ 17:23:51

    Steve, I still think Spanish couldn’t use ‘vernal’ because of the reasons I mentioned in the last post. “Primavera” was adopted, as the term; and from the Italian Renaissance; so “vernal” was simply out of the question, at least for the romance languages.


    • Maria F.
      May 11, 2015 @ 17:52:32

      I’m going to add more zest to this etymological conundrum, from this website from Chile which I like:


      • Steve Schwartzman
        May 11, 2015 @ 18:28:00

        The comments by Pedro and Helena on the page you linked to are correct, and they set straight some of the folk-etymological claims made by other commenters there.


        • Maria F.
          May 11, 2015 @ 18:37:29

          I bookmarked that website finally. I also saw that “Verano” in Greek is: “kalokaíri”:
          Now look at this: in 1590s, from Latin “calidus”, is “warm,” from PIE root *kele- (1) “warm” (see ‘calorie’), so “verano” may have a very distant relationship to “calor” (“heat”), but so distant, and only in meaning, so some scholars may not even bother going there.


  3. shoreacres
    May 12, 2015 @ 18:51:49

    Speaking of becoming sickly or mentally unstable in the summer, there’s this. It’s not at all cowardly to avoid the summer heat!


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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