Today is the last day of May.  Although we went live with The New Leaf Journal on April 27, May has been our first full month online.  For our 31st and final piece of content this month (30 articles plus one About page), I thought that I would post about something that ties together the month of May and our journal’s leaf motif. There is no better way to conclude our first month than with some fine words and seasonal sentences at The Emu Café.

“Leaf” as a Verb, as The Trees Leaf in May

The word “leaf” is most often used as a noun.  While as a noun, “leaf” is most commonly used to refer to plant organs, leaf is also used to refer to a page.  The New Leaf Journal alludes to both definitions with its title and tagline.

While “leaf” has several other meanings as a noun, this article will focus on “leaf” as verb. Let us begin, as I semi-regularly do, with the classic The Century Dictionary, first published from 1889-1901.  The Century Dictionary defines leaf in its verbal sense as follows:

“To shoot out leaves; produce foliage:  as, the trees leaf in May.”

Definition of “leaf” from The Century Dictionary.
Clip of The Century Dictionary's definition of the word "leaf" with six leaf illustrations on the left side of the page.
Clipped from The Century Dictionary – highlights added by the author.

Even absent The New Leaf Journal connotations – this is an elegant and usage example.  Interestingly, it is not unique to The Century Dictionary.  The 1828 and first edition of Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language contains the same example.  This was retained through the 1913 edition of Webster’s.  Sadly, “the trees leaf in May” was dropped by the 1952 edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary:  Second Edition.

Poetic Example and Leaf Origins

The Century Dictionary is unique in also offering a pretty example of the verbal use of “leaf” from John Greenleaf Whittier’s The Clear Vision:

The vales shall leaf in flowers, the woods
Grow malty green with leafing buds.

John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Clear Vision.” Emphasis added by The Century Dictionary.

Webster’s 1913 contains an interesting additional note about our verb of the day.  It attributes this usage of leaf to Sir Thomas Browne, the seventeenth century English scientist, doctor, and writer.  While I would like to dig deeper into the issue, that exploration will have to be left for a later day, for May would be over by the time I completed it.  Resisting a terrible pun in the previous sentence was no small feat.

Alternative Forms

The Century Dictionary notes that “leave” is an alternative version of leaf as a transitive verb.  Webster’s 1913 provides that the past tense of leaf is “leafed.”  For its part, The Century Dictionary only defines “leafed” in the sense of “having leaves,” for example a “leafed tree.” “Leafing,” which we shall return to later, is an alternative present participle verb form offered by Webster’s 1913.

Earlier, I noted that “leafing” is another form of our verb of the day. I found an interesting usage example for “leafing” at

This is the locust tree, and May is its time for leafing out in the tenderest of greens.

Ella Rodman Church, “Among the Trees at Elmridge
Picture of honey locust from "Among the Trees at Elmridge."
Picture of honey locust from “Among the Trees at Elmridge.”

Here, Ella Rodman Church used “leafing” as a gerund, or verbal noun. This is another example of “leaf,” here “leafing,” being used in connection with the month of May. Furthermore, it is a wonderful sentence in its own right, with the “tenderest of greens” phrasing betraying a keen sensibility for describing the particular viridity of spring.

The New Leaf Journal Leaves in May

Similarly to the honey locust tree, The New Leaf Journal leaves in May With its leafing out in May complete, we turn over a new leaf on our calendars to June. Since leaves flourish in the sun, we look forward to an exciting second month full of fresh content and site updates.

In the spirit of the leafing trees, we here at The Emu Café encourage you to treat yourself to your favorite tea this afternoon. Thank you for visiting The Emu Café and following the growth and development of The New Leaf Journal.