While the expression has been the definition of ubiquity, few actually wonder where did the expression "Arab Spring" itself come from.
The first usage of "Spring" to define an uprising by people towards political progressivism and advancement were "springtime of the peoples" and "spring of nations" (respectively, German Völkerfrühling and French printemps des peuples), used by many as a portmanteau term for the revolutions of 1848 in Europe.
Then, the term "Prague Spring" was used to refer to the period between January 5th to August 21st of 1968, a period of relative political liberalisation in (then) Czechoslovakia, before the Soviets invaded the country and put an end to the reforms, and replaced reformist leader Alexander Dubcek with conservative Gustav Husak.
I have also heard from a trustworthy commentator that "Arab Spring" was used fleetingly to refer to the Arab Revolts of 1916-1918 against the Ottoman Empire, but I have not been able to find any confirmation to this information till this moment.
In 2005, protests, unrest and changes (of significantly variable sizes) seemed to begin to sweep the Arab world, particularly Egypt and Lebanon (some added Syria), with continued ripple effects from the fall of Saddam and the painful moves towards the democratisation of Iraq, the relative liberalisation of media in Egypt as well. Somehow, this period came to be referred to "The Arab Spring", including a such-titled editorial by Le Monde according to Charles Krauthammer (himself writing a piece of the same nature).
Then, on January 6th of 2011, as the protests in Tunisia were gaining even larger mass, and two days after the death of Mohammed Bouazizi in the hospital following his self-immolation, Marc Lynch wrote a post on FP called "Obama's Arab Spring". In it, he says that he:
"...noted the spread of seemingly unrelated protests and clashes through a diverse array of Arab states -- Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt. Last night, protests spread to Algeria, partly in response to rising prices on basic food items but more deeply by the same combination of economic desperation, fury over perceived corruption, and a blocked political order."He then goes on to ask:
"Are we seeing the beginnings of the Obama administration equivalent of the 2005 "Arab Spring", when the protests in Beirut captured popular attention and driven in part by newly powerful satellite television images inspired popular mobilization across the region that some hoped might finally break through the stagnation of Arab autocracy? Will social media play the role of al-Jazeera this time? Will the outcome be any different?"FP goes on to trace the growth of the term henceforth in an interesting piece, and features a quote on January 25th of 2011 by Mohammed El Baradei in Der Spiegel, where he said:
"Perhaps we are currently experiencing the first signs of an "Arab Spring" (e.g. similar to the so-called Prague Spring of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia in 1968). Our neighbors are watching Egypt, which has always played a pioneering role. I hope that my country will be one of the first in which freedom and democracy blossom. We Egyptians should also be able to achieve what the Tunisians have done."One year on, some will answer those questions with an emphatic "yes", others will answer with: "we hope so..."