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'Fall' Versus 'Autumn'

The Pumpkin Spice Latte has arrived, and so has fall. Or wait, is it autumn? 

By
Mignon Fogarty,

 

Fall officially starts Monday, September 23, this year in the northern hemisphere, but Starbucks doesn't care; the Pumpkin Spice Latte—a hallmark of fall—has been available for weeks. All the excitement online got me thinking about seasons and why this one seems to have two names: fall and autumn. 

And just to make it more confusing, the first day of fall is also called the autumnal equinox. On the first day of fall (and spring actually), day and night are the same length, and the word “equinox” comes from the same root as the word “equal,” showing that in this 24-hour period, day and night are equal. 

'Fall' is more common in the US. 'Autumn' is more common in Britain.

The Origin of ‘Fall’

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Fall gets its name from the longer phrase “fall of the leaf” that was first used in the mid-1500s. (Spring comes from a similar phrase: “spring of the leaf.”) For whatever reason, the name “fall” became more popular in America more than it did in Britain, and in the US, “fall” is the standard season name.

The Origin of ‘Autumn’

British speakers are more likely to use the older name, “autumn,” which came into English from Old French in the late 1300s. The first reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Chaucer: 

Autumn comes again, heavy of apples.

Season names such as “fall" and “winter” are lowercase unless they are part of an official name such as the Winter Olympics.

I love that both “fall” and “spring” describe what’s happening to leaves in those times of year. Now that I know about “fall of the leaf” and “spring of the leaf,” when I’m out on a walk, I look at the trees and their changing leaves in a whole new way.

References

Wickman, F. "Why is autumn the only season with two names?" Slatehttp://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/09/29/why_does_autumn_have_two_names_how_the_third_season_became_both_autumn_and_fall_.html (accessed September 12, 2019).

"Days of the weeks, months, and seasons." Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, online. Section 8.87. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/ch08/ch08_sec087.html (subscription required, accessed September 12, 2019).

"seasons." AP Stylebook, online. http://www.apstylebook.com/online/?do=entry&id=2601&src=AE (subscription required, accessed September 12, 2019).

"fall." Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/67826?rskey=Z8QXED&result=2#eid (subscription required, accessed September 12, 2019).

"autumn.'  Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/13551?rskey=BnRxbp&result=1#eid (subscription required, accessed September 12, 2019).

Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times bestseller, "Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing."

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