Autumn or Fall?

By Maeve Maddox

Why can’t Americans admit they have rewritten the English language. Fall for Autumn, color for colour. –Diane, comment on Among/Amongst

Changing colour to color can be blamed on American dictionary maker Noah Webster, but Fall for Autumn deserves another look.

Taking the vocabulary of Old English as a starting point, both Fall and Autumn as names for the season between summer and winter are late-comers.

Fall derives from an Old English verb, but it wasn’t used as a noun to designate the season until the 16th century. This use most likely developed from the Middle English expression “fall of the leaf.”

So what did Old English speakers call the season?

Harvest.

The need for a new word arose from a population shift that made cities more important than farmland. From being a word for the season, harvest came to refer only to the agricultural event that occurs in that season.

Autumn as a word for the season came into common usage about the same time as Fall did. The English who settled the eastern American seaboard brought the word Fall with them from the homeland. The English who stayed home eventually adopted the word Autumn.

Nowadays in England “Fall” sounds archaic and poetic, but in U.S. English “Autumn” has those connotations.

Check out this comprehensive Wikipedia article on differences between British and American spelling.

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7 Responses to “Autumn or Fall?”

  • Miguel de Luis

    As an amateur writer from Spain who often dares to write in English, I can tell you these differences can be a nightmare.

  • Michael

    American English and British English formalized independent of each other. Most people don’t realize that. The English speakers that came to America brought with them their own ways of speaking. The rules that made up American English were in part for nationalistic reasons. To differentiate ourselves from the British.

  • nutmeag

    I’m an American who prefers Autumn to Fall. Does that make me archaic? 😉

  • Tiggy

    Miguel, as an English-born writer living in Canada writing to a mainly American audience, I know what you mean! I use Canadian English as my happy medium.

    ‘Fall’ and ‘Autumn’ are both used in Atlantic Canada – our ties to the UK have always been a lot closer and is reflected in the language here.

  • Maeve

    tmg,
    I agree. I especially like the phrase “autumn mists.”

  • Peter

    In Australia, “Autumn” is always used. As our native trees do not drop their leaves (even Snow Gums in the Australian Alps), we don’t have a “Fall”. So stands to reason that we have never used the term “Fall”.

  • mr mohamed

    i always get confused with these both words ….. historic and historical…. electric and electrical….. along and a long …. 🙂

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