What does ‘in spate’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s phrase: in spate…

When I read the novel The Porpoise by Mark Haddon, I was struck by the number of “British-isms” in his text. You know, those words like “lift” (elevator) and “boot” (trunk of car) that mean something quite different on this side of the Atlantic.

He also used some expressions that don’t ever appear in our vocabularies. One such expression was in spate. Here is how he used it:

It is spring and the river is in spate.

The term refers to a sudden flood in a river, especially one caused by heavy rains or melting snow.

The etymology of the word is thought to be Old French, from espoit for “flood,” which, in turn comes from the Dutch spuiten meaning “to flow, spout.”

Incidentally, Haddon achieved fame as an author for his 2003 book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.