There are several families of languages where the same word can mean either a concept closely related to time or a concept closely related to weather:

  • Romance root: French temps, Italian tempo, Spanish tiempo, …
  • Slavic root: Bulgarian време, Croatian vrijeme, Romanian vreme, …
  • Celtic root: Gaelic aimsir, Breton amzer, …
  • Greek: καιρός
  • Hungarian (Turkic root): idő
  • Albanian koha

These are five (or six) sets of languages with no obvious etymological connection for this word. They do, however, have geographical connections, so with only this data I can't exclude cross-language contamination from some proto-Indo-European root.

Is there a known single origin for the connection between weather and time? Or is there a pattern that is known to have appeared independently in several language families (perhaps linking the passage of time with the succession of seasons which are marked by different weather)?

This question was prompted by this question on French Language & Usage.

  • 11
    Actually in Russian время is only "time", while "weather" is погода; and Romanian is a Romance language, not Slavic.
    – Alenanno
    Sep 22, 2011 at 22:47
  • 7
    Latin languages are actually called "Romance languages" in English. Sep 22, 2011 at 22:48
  • 9
    @Alennano: Romanian vreme is borrowed from a Slavic language.
    – Alek Storm
    Sep 25, 2011 at 21:20
  • 1
    For the Hungarian case it could be enlightening to find the words in related languages like Mansi and Khanty. Also what do Finnish and Estonian do? Sep 26, 2011 at 7:02
  • 1
    In Greek, the word καιρός is used to describe both time and weather. The Greek dictionary defines it as right proportion, due measure; right place; right time or season, opportunity; time, critical moment; importance, influence; profit success. Oddly enough, it also defines it to be embarrassment, unless of course this is a homophone.
    – Bill
    Sep 28, 2011 at 13:02

3 Answers 3


A known single origin for all is certainly impossible since many languages don't have the same cognate term. So what I guess you are really looking for is a single plausible justification for semantic similarity between the concepts that might lead to using a single cognate term (within a language) for the same concept.

The canonical example, the Romance languages, where the terms for the two concepts are identical, all stem from both "time" and "weather" deriving from "tempestus" = "season, weather" (EN) derived directly from "tempus" for "time" (EN).

The other examples in IE, Slavic and Celtic, sometimes have one cognate form ("vrijeme" (CR)) sometimes two, "pogoda" "czas" (PL).

The only other language (not already mentioned) I could find (using Google translate) where the two concepts have a common word is Vietnamese:

  • time: thời gian
  • weather: thời tiết

where all the individual words seem to be about time.

This is just examples. All we can really do is is make an educated but still speculative explanation about the semantic drift that since there does exist at least one example where the distinct concepts have similar roots (Latin), that a word form for "time" has affinities with marked time periods with special weather a "season", and that can drift over to "weather" itself. That one example is enough to justify that they are related.

The existence of the example in Vietnamese just makes it more likely that it is not such a crazy explanation, because, as you you suggest, it comes from a supposedly uninfluenced language area (supposing that even those a Celtic "ams" for both time and weather was not an independent creation but a loan "analogy", even though the root is independent).

One might suggest that Vietnamese might have its pair of terms influenced analogy wise by French but that would take a more in-depth historical/etymological analysis of Vietnamese.

  • I know this is my second comment to you, nothing personal! :) Anyway, as far as I know, the italian "tempo" comes directly from tempus not going through the other term. But anyway, tempus had the "season" meaning as well, so...
    – Alenanno
    Oct 2, 2011 at 20:34
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    @Mitch: Vietnamese thời is one reading of the Han character 時 (time, season; hour; era, age, period). There is another reading thì which is surely related to Mandarin shí and Cantonese si4. But I don't know whether the two Vietnamese readings are related or if one is Sino and one native. In any case Chinese clearly relates time and season and it's no stretch to see the semantic relationship between season and weather. Oct 2, 2011 at 22:46
  • @hippietrail: so the phenomenon is about if there are cognates that cover separate 'time' (passage of time) and 'weather' (meteorological activity). Are you saying that those Mandarin and Cantonese lexemes both elicit time and weather semantics?
    – Mitch
    Oct 2, 2011 at 23:57
  • @Mitch: Well possibly, these are not languages I know so much about, I just followed link trails around Wiktionary. Oct 3, 2011 at 0:00
  • @Mitch just curious what do you mean by (EN), (CR) and (PL) in your answer?
    – Louis Rhys
    Oct 3, 2011 at 16:02

There may not be a single origin; who knows. But the Greek word used is marked, and that does suggest a more explicit connotative meaning than what @Mitch described in his answer. Here's how I've described it elsewhere:


Students of Ancient Greek, and particularly students of Koine, pay a lot of attention to the distinction between χρόνος and καιρός, since Ancient Greek uses both, and English usually just uses time for both. The distinction the pair makes is between time in general, and the time for something, the right time to do something. English has ways of expressing the latter that don’t involve the word time, though it’s not as consistent about it as Greek: opportunity, for example, or occasion. Or in archaic English, season.

The distinction persists in Modern Greek, although χρόνος is now learnèd, and fixed expressions tend instead to use ώρα “hour” as a mass noun. So there is a subtle distinction made in the two ways of saying “I don’t have time to see you:

δεν έχω ώρα να σε δω “I don’t have hour to see you = I don’t have enough free time to see you”

δεν έχω καιρό να σε δω “I don’t have occasion to see you = There isn’t a right time for me to see you”


έχεις ώρα για καφέ; “Do you have any free time for a coffee?”

έχεις καιρό για καφέ; “Is any time good for you to have a coffee?”

In a traditional agrarian society, the right time to do something will immediately bring to mind the right time to do agrarian work. Hence season in English turns from the proper occasion for something (To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven), to the season of the year: spring is the season for sowing, autumn is the season for harvesting.

Greek underwent a similar transition, but at a more granular level: it permitted the right time for agrarian work to vary day by day. καιρός thus acquired the meaning “weather”: a sunny day is the occasion/season for working outdoors, a rainy day is the occasion/season not to.

  • 1
    "καιρός thus acquired the meaning “weather”:" - When did this happen? Are you sure it is not calqued on French?
    – fdb
    Aug 30, 2018 at 21:00
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    First attested in Renaissance Cretan, in the 1600s. Not French, though that does not rule out Italian. OTOH, in the sense of season of the year, it's in the Septuagint Genesis; Philo explicitly interprets its use as such, appealing to this etymology, in On The Creation Of The World 59: "the stars were created to act as signs, and moreover to mark the seasons (καιρός). And by the word seasons the divisions of the year are here intended. And why may not this be reasonably affirmed? For what other idea of καιρός can there be except that it is the time for success?" (cont) Aug 30, 2018 at 22:48
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    "And the seasons bring everything to perfection and set everything right; giving perfection to the sowing and planting of fruits, and to the birth and growth of animals." Aug 30, 2018 at 22:49
  • 1
    There is still a big step from "seasons" to "day-to-day fluctuation of the weather".
    – fdb
    Aug 30, 2018 at 22:52

In a discussion with a literary group I attended, someone pointed out that similar "early" instruments such as sundials, were used to measure both time and temperature. So apparently, there was a "common cause," but not an obvious one. And it seems that a number of languages have overlaps between the words for time and temperature.

  • How can you use a sundial to measure temperature?
    – No Name
    Jul 12, 2022 at 4:49

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