“Spring” and “neap” tides

Interestingly, “spring tide” was initially also used to mean “the time of the season of spring” or “springtime.” That’s because the word “tide,” which came from the same Germanic root (“tidiz”) that gave us “time,” originally just meant “time” or “a specific period of time.” So “Yuletide,” a synonym for the time around Christmas, simply means “the time when the Yule log is traditionally burned,” i.e., Christmas. “Tide” wasn’t applied to the periodic fluctuations in ocean levels until the 14th century.

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4 comments on this post.
  1. BCB:

    “The one theory that seems plausible ties “neap” to the English words “nip” and/or “neb” (meaning the bill or beak of a bird). You could make a case that when the level of high tide converges with that of low tide, the difference between the two narrows like the beak of a bird, or perhaps something that is “nipped,” squeezed together sharply.”

    Also, if you did live by the shore, you surely (shorely?) will have noticed that any particularly low tide will bring in a preponderance of seabirds to “beak” at the sea-critters that are usually under water but suddenly are not. Given the usual “common-man” evolution of the language we use, this seems to me more likely than some esoteric theme on squeezing.

  2. Louise Hope:

    You missed a priceless opportunity to show off by tossing in the other two “tide” words, ebb and flow. Admittedly their respective etymologies wouldn’t take up more than a line and a half, but then you’d have them all tied up in a neat package.

  3. AirBnb:

    You should take part in a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I will recommend http://www.word-detective.com!

  4. Ethanael:

    It’s a relief to find someone who can epxilan things so well

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