Spring terms

Adolescent April

On April Fool's Day in France, those who are tricked are dubbed poisson d'Avril (fish of April). That's because April fish are freshly hatched and inexperienced - and therefore easy to catch.

Likewise, the month of April is known for being the most juvenile. In ancient pictures, April was often shown as a young girl dressed in green, one hand holding a garland of prickly hawthorn, the other sweet violets.

The word "April" comes from the Latin verb aperire, "to open," referring to the budding of trees and flowers. But don't get too excited. Shakespeare spoke of "the uncertain glory of an April day," and our 20th-century poets have written plenty about adolescent April, notably Louise Bates: "Beckoning from blue or stormy skies, April smiles, and then April sighs."

To 'wing it'

Originally, the verb "to wing" meant "to carve a quail or partridge." Then Shakespeare expanded its kitchen-bound sense in "King Lear" (1605) to mean "fly." But the popular cliché "to wing it" - meaning "to perform without preparation" - has nothing to do with birds. It comes from the 19th-century theater where it applied to actors who went on stage without knowing their lines, usually replacing absent players. To get through a performance, these shaky stand-ins depended upon prompters ... in the wings, of course.

SOURCES: 'All About the Months,' by Maymie R. Krythe; 'The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,' by Robert Hendrickson; 'Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins,' by W. and M. Morris; 'The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology,' by Robert K. Barnhart; 'Facts on File: Dictionary of Clichés,' by Christine Ammer.

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