03/20/2014 01:41 pm ET Updated May 20, 2014

Winter 2014: Fevers, Contranyms and Umlauts

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This has been a long, brutal winter for much of the U.S.

Places accustomed to snow and cold have been through a marathon prize fight. Left cross, snowstorm. Right uppercut, bitter cold. Round after brutal round.

Places unaccustomed to cold and snow have encountered both this year. More than enough for their tastes, I'm sure. It crossed my mind that potentially two-thirds of the country has cabin fever.

Wait -- is that cabin fever or spring fever? Is cabin fever a cold-climate expression? Do they have cabin fever in Georgia?

Apparently, I've got my fevers confused.

No, it should be cabin fever -- stuck inside all the time, bored with everything, other people on your nerves, no fresh air... because of winter. I guess I do have a regional bias.

To me, cabin fever implies a cabin in the Rocky Mountains that's literally snowed in. Can't get out, and nowhere to go if you could. I can see how that could drive a person crazy, and that's where the whole fever part comes in (completely unrelated to thermometers).

I don't live in the Rockies, just the Midwest. I've never been trapped in a mountain cabin or anything, but the concept is the same.

For the most part, we still get to go to work everyday in the Midwest. There's been a lot of snow days at schools this year, but the factories, offices, stores, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and concert halls have remained open. We have not been "trapped."

However, battling snow, ice and 20-below wind chills just to get to work can be draining. When it snows 11 out of 12 weekends, your enthusiasm for social events tends to diminish.

I don't think it's the same in warmer climates. Even with below normal temperatures, I doubt they've left for work with the real temperature below zero more than 20 times this winter. Any snow probably melts relatively quickly. I imagine people still use their backyards occasionally. I haven't grilled out since October.

Still, maybe people do call it spring fever in the warmer climates.

I can't see how, though. It's only spring fever at the end of a long winter, when the temperatures finally rise and the coats come off for the first time in sixth months. When you can't wait to get out of the house, the classroom, the office -- the car! That's not my regional bias again, is it?

Maybe I should look up spring fever online.

I scan, and quickly encounter expected words like warmer, restless and energetic. Just before closing out, feeling satisfied, the words listless and unmotivated catch my eye. Huh?

I must have missed a preceding word like "antonym." I go back and re-read it. Nope, according to that page, sometimes spring fever describes an increase in energy and drive, sometimes a decrease.

Is spring fever bipolar?

I go to another page, and it confirms the first. It also explains that spring fever is a rare example of a contranym -- a word or phrase that is its own opposite.

Is contranym a real word I've never heard before? Or one I've learned and entirely forgotten?

OK, someone has obviously taken over my computer and is manipulating my searches to record my reactions. Maybe I'll be on TV and win a million dollars...

I hear the first drops of rain hit the window, and immediately forget about the conspiracy theory/game show/money. The news did say we had a chance of rain tonight, instead of snow, but I didn't believe it.

I search for more evidence of people who get bummed out by nice weather. I come across a term called "spring sadness."


Here I am, ready to do cartwheels because it's raining, and people are sad about spring?

I go outside to look at the beautiful rain. It starts to fall a bit heavier, the drops growing in size.

I come back in and keep digging. I find that "spring sadness" is a translation of the German term "Frühjahrsmüdigkeit."

What a cool-looking word -- it has umlauts, the two little dots above the letters "u."

I try to pronounce it, and begin to giggle. Since I don't speak German, I'm sure I'm butchering the pronunciation, but I don't care.

I go back outside to look at the rain, which is slowing down. It turns to hail before my eyes, and I hear claps of thunder in the distance.

Frühjahrsmüdigkeit. Giggles escalate to laughter.

The hail changes to sleet. I no longer hear thunder.

Frühjahrsmüdigkeit. Maniacal, uncontrollable laughter.

Sleet changes to snow. Snow turns to white out.

Frühjahrsmüdigkeit. Or are those the men in the white coats?

"They're Coming to Take Me Away"