Yesterday’s post got me thinking about why we English speaking folks in North America use both Fall and Autumn to describe the season between Summer and Winter. Why does it have two acceptable and apparantly interchangable names? And why do British speakers of English prefer Autumn to Fall ?
So a little research turned up a reasonable explanation. The earliest term for the season is autumn, which shows up in English in the 14th century. It was derived from the Latin word autumnus. Prior to this period, the season was referred to as Harvest. As this could be both confusing since it might refer to the time of the year and the actual harvesting of agricultural products, autumn was a helpful addition to English. It took another three centuries for the term fall, which described the actual process of leaves falling from trees, to be widely used to designate the intermediary season between Summer and Winter.Even so, Fall didn’t enter the dictionary until 1755.
Still, none of this explains why colonial English speakers seem to have taken up Fall over Autumn. In fact, by the late 19th century, a majority American English speakers and writers appear to have cleaved to Fall. Maybe it was our propensity toward shortcuts or simply intellectual lasitude. These days, Autumn seems to be making a comeback, at least in my region of the continent.
Thank you for this post! The distinction between “Fall” and “Autumn” is quite interesting. Fall is my favorite season of the year, but I find that in Boston, true “Fall” only lasts for a few weeks in October! I have to enjoy it while I can 🙂