Saturday as the kids and I were driving Rowyn to a birthday party, they were observing that it was way too warm for fall, and all the trees were still green . . . and Xoë

then said, “I don’t like that we call it fall. It should be autumn. Why did we ever start doing that?”

I knew the basics, but they didn’t begin to satisfy my word-picky daughter (girl after my own heart! LOL), so since today is her birthday and this amazing girl is now 12 (should NOT be possible!), I figured I would do the word of her choice. =)

Not surprising, the primary meaning of fall–“a falling to the ground”–is as old as English itself, dating to Old English in the 1200s. The sense of “autumn” came along in the 1600s, a shortened version of the poetic “fall of the leaf,” a saying that originated round about 1540. In the 1600s, fall was used for the season in England quite often–I assume those English speakers who came to America used it, and it stayed in use here while it fell out of it in England, because these days only the US uses it.

Though let it be noted that autumn isn’t all that much older. Though a word in English from the late 1300s (from the French and the Latin, though its origins are a bit obscure), harvest was actually the word for the season until the 1500s, when autumn began to take over. So it appears that autumn only reigned for about a hundred years before fall entered the scene, and now both are used.

Interestingly, though words for the other seasons all seem to come from a common root across the Indo-European languages, autumn does not. There are a wide variety of words for it that have nothing in common–some that take their roots from “end, end of summer” ideas, and others from the colors that dominate the season, like red, still others with a meaning that hints at the beginning of winter.

Whatever you call the season, I hope you’re enjoying it as much as my autumn-born daughter does! Happy birthday, Xoë!

Xoë at her party yesterday, in Ancient Greek style–complete with a gold laurel crown.
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