MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Does Fall/Autumn Have Two Names?

Yesterday marked the start of a new season. But which one? Was it the beginning of Fall? Or the start of Autumn? Which is correct (or, at worst, most correct)?

What you call the season we’re now in actually depends on where in the world you’re from and/or whom you ask. In The United Kingdom, our current season is known only as “autumn”. Yet here in America, folks use both fall and autumn interchangeably. So, it’s ultimately the only season in the English language with two accepted names.

Fall isn’t some modern-day nickname that came long after the more regal-sounding autumn, either. The two terms were actually first recorded within a few hundred years of each other. But before either word turned up in our vernacular, the season between summer and winter was known as “harvest”, a Germanic word meaning “to pick or reap”, since the gathering & preserving of crops took place just ahead of winter.

It was in the 1500s that English speakers began referring to the seasons between the cold & warm months as either “the fall of the leaf” or “the spring of the leaf”, or “fall” & “spring” for short. Both were simple & evocative, but only spring ended up sticking around in Britain. By the end of the 1600s, autumn, from the Latin “autumnus”, had become the third season’s standard British term, as fall fell out of usage.

About the same time England was adopting “autumn”, the first British colonists were heading here to North America, bringing both the words “fall” & “autumn” with them. And while the former fell out of fashion overseas, it solidified itself in the American vernacular by the time we won our independence. And nowadays, both words are used to describe the season before winter.

Either way, welcome to…Fall…or Autumn…whichever you call it!

And if you’ve got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved, send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at [email protected].