Why are there different names for seasons, and when should you capitalize them?
Season Names: Autumn and Fall
While we’ve been on the subject of seasons, you might have wondered about the word “autumn” compared to “fall.” In the British Isles, the term “autumn” has been used since the 1300s, and the phrase “the fall of the leaf” or just “the fall” was used from the 1500s until about 1800. After that time, “autumn” became the common seasonal term in Britain. According to The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, “whereas ‘the fall of the leaf’ (less frequently ‘the fall of the year’) and then ‘fall’ by itself gradually became standard in America from the late 17th century onwards" (5). However, one exception for American usage of “autumn,” instead of “fall,” is with the autumnal equinox.
Capitalizing Seasons — or Not
Let’s conclude with one more seasonal-related topic that you might be wondering about: when to lowercase and when to capitalize the seasons of the year. Here’s the rule: Lowercase “fall,” “autumn,” “winter,” “spring,” and “summer” unless the word is part of a proper name. For example:
Winter Olympics is capitalized because it’s the formal name of an event.
winter sports is lowercase because it’s simply descriptive.
Fall Semester 2011 is capitalized because it’s the formal name of a semester.
fall schedule is lowercase because it’s simply descriptive.
And, you may have noticed from earlier in this article that you would lowercase “spring equinox” and “summer solstice.”
Now you know the difference between the words “equinox” and “solstice,” “autumn” and “fall,” and when to capitalize or lowercase seasonal names.
This article was written by Geoff Pope, who teaches English at City University of Seattle. He can be found online at www.geoffpope.com. This article was edited and read in the podcast by Mignon Fogarty, the author of the new book 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again.
1. Dictionary.com. 2011. “Equinox.” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/equinox (accessed on September 26, 2011).
2. Merriam-Webster Online. 2011. “Equinox.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equinox (accessed on September 26, 2011).
3. CompareXY: A Comparison Library. (2010). “Equinox vs Solstice.” http://comparexy.com/compare/Equinox+vs+Solstice (accessed on September 27, 2011).
4. Answers.com. Dec. 7, 2007. “What is the difference between solstice and equinox?” http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_difference_between_solstice_and_equinox#ixzz1YwTq2hvo (accessed on September 27, 2011).
5. Burchfield, R. W., ed. The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Third edition. New York: Oxford, 1996, p. 282.
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Vertical image courtesy of Shutterstock.https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/winter-ski-walks-forest-722615635