Is it Autumn or Fall?
By Paul James
Spring is spring. Summer is summer. And winter is winter. No confusion. No problem. So why in the world is the current season — which officially began on September 22 at precisely 8:31 a.m. — known by two completely different yet interchangeable words? Well, as a gardener who knows that now, whatever you call it, is the ideal time to plant darn near everything, I decided to dig into the matter. Here’s what I found.
Yes, the two words mean the same thing, but autumn is much older. It first appeared in the English language in the 1300s (borrowed from the French automne and before that the Latin autumnus) and it caught on quickly. Prior to its introduction, the season was known simply as “harvest” because that’s when so many crops were harvested, especially fruits and grains.
English poets wrote extensively of all the changes that took place during autumn, in particular the “fall of the leaves.” And by the 1600s, “fall” became a slightly abbreviated, but perfectly acceptable alternative to autumn, although it didn’t appear in English dictionaries until 1755. Even today, throughout the UK, Australia, and wherever British English is spoken, autumn is by far the more popular term.
Of course on this side of the pond, fall is used almost exclusively, although I must admit that autumn is a prettier word. And it has only one distinct meaning, whereas fall can be used as either a noun or a verb and has well over a dozen meanings. But regardless of what you call it, it is to me the most beautiful season of all.
Happy autumn, all. And happy fall, ya’ll.
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