Most of us are aware that the word ‘autumn’ is used mainly by English people, and ‘fall’ is used mainly in America. But why does this season have two completely different names depending on where you are in the word? It might surprise you to know that both words actually originated in Britain! The word Autumn is older of the two words, first coming to the English Language in the 1300s from the Latin word Autumnus. It was used extensively after its introduction to the English language, as it was a happy replacement for the more ambiguous word used before; Harvest, which can refer to the time when the harvesting of the crops takes place (Autumn) and the actual act of harvesting the crops.

However, autumn was not the only word used to describe the season. ‘Fall’ first shows up in the mid-16th century in England, primarily at first as “fall of the leaves”, then shortened to just ‘fall’. The reach of the English language was vast at this time, leaving its impression all around the globe, including North America. Just as Autumn and Fall were both born in Britain, they both emigrated to America, and both were in use for a time. Eventually, American colonies began to separate linguistically from British English, and by the 17th century, calls for “spelling reform” began. This was the anglicising and standardising the remnants of French that still littered the English Language, meaning words like ‘logique‘ became ‘logic’, and so on.  

Some spelling reformers took it further than just standardising spelling. Noah Webster, of Webster’s Dictionary, had a somewhat political motivation behind his spelling reform ideals. He was primarily responsible for making changes to American English spelling in words like “center” (not “centre”) and “color” (not “colour”), in a deliberate attempt to distance America from the British. These changes were widely accepted, showing that around the time of independence, the American colonies were completely prepared to change the way they spoke and spelt as a means to differentiate themselves from the British.

By the 1800s, we have definitive proof that Fall had beaten out Autumn for the most popular word for the season in America, with Early American Lexicographer, John Pickering, noting; “In North America, the season which this [fall of the leaf] takes place […] is universally called the fall”.

Where are you from and what do you call Autumn/Fall in your language? Let us know! 

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