As an homage to a certain kind of linguistico-philosophico question we see here now and then, I'm asking my own, since I have pressing things to do which I would like to do tomorrow, or the next day, but not today.

I'm springing can mean "I'm going to spring".

I'm springing can mean "I am springing again and again".

But once one has sprung, can one really say "I am springing" to mean "I'm in the midst of a spring"? Can one be in the midst of a spring? Or is a spring an act of zero-duration? Are we ready to spring or sprung and never springing?

  • I have sometimes considered the same sort of thing with jump. A man stands on a river bank and jumps in the river. Where was he when he jumped? On the bank. No, that was before he jumped. In the water. That was after he jumped. In the air. That too was after he jumped. So where was he when he jumped? – WS2 May 12 '15 at 13:26
  • I don't think a spring is an act of zero duration. It is a rough synonym of "jump". So yes, one can be in the midst of a spring. – phoog May 12 '15 at 13:26
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    @WS2 jump can also refer to the period of flight after one propels oneself upward. However, if one considers only the moment during which the person accelerated himself upward, then he was certainly also on the bank during that period. – phoog May 12 '15 at 13:31
  • Ngram shows a quite rare use of I am springing and only in the transitive sense.books.google.com/ngrams/… – user66974 May 12 '15 at 13:46
  • I don't think so. The time you spend mid-air while "springing" is negligible, you're no sooner up then you're back down again. Whereas if you repeatedly "spring" then a speaker can say: "Tim's springing (again)" You cannot slow down a "spring" unlike the action of say, opening or shutting something, both actions which require little time, and hardly any effort but one can choose to slowly close a door. And hence "I'm closing the door" is acceptable in the midst of said action. – Mari-Lou A May 12 '15 at 15:33

It seems to me that this example, from Catherine Mason, The Fisher's Daughter, or The Wanderings of Wolf (1835), envisions springing (albeit metaphorical springing) as an ongoing act of some duration:

I was then wild, little better than a savage boy, untutored, uneducated, still I was steadfast to the truth ; and shall I now forsake that beaten track, which was the light of my existence, and the glory of my heart? Now that I have energy, sensibility, character, now that I feel I am springing into manhood, shall I forsake man's proudest boast—truth? No, let me perish first.

Although a reader might infer that "I am springing" here means "I am about to spring," I think it makes more sense to understand it as "I am in midflight (as I spring from childhood into manhood)."

Similarly, from Philip Doddridge, "Preface," dated December 11, 1746, to volume 8 of The Works of the Rev. P. Doddridge, D.D. (1805):

And if the slender and precarious thread of my life be cut short, before, in the midst of so many other necessary employments, such a work [the completion of three more volumes of writings on religious themes after the publication of two earlier volumes] can be completed, may God graciously accept a purpose with which I trust he has inspired a breast unfeignedly devoted to his service! And may he in that case raise a much abler hand to execute a task, at the prospect of which, though after the preparation of more than twenty years, I feel a secret kind of terror, mingling itself with all the delight with which I am springing forward to undertake it!

Again it's possible to read the springing as not having begun yet, but I see it instead as being a spring already in progress.

A third (and much more recent) instance occurs in Garth Battista, How Running Changed My Life: True Stories of the Power of Running (2002):

Although this is the city, I believe I can smell a river drying. I wiggle my toes. In my body there is the sensation of gentle lifting. I am springing upward inside, as if the weight of snow has fallen from my bough.

In my view, these three examples demonstrate that “I am springing” can indeed have a present continuous meaning relating to a single spring; but the fact that each example can arguably be interpreted as meaning "I am about to spring" suggests why it is so difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the phrase may refer to an ongoing process of leaping forward or upward.

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