“Autumn” vs. “Fall”: What Was The Season Called First?

’Tis the time of colorful foliage, crisp air, and pumpkin spice. It’s many people’s favorite season—and it’s the only one with more than one commonly used name. But what to call it—autumnorfall? And what came first?

Prepare for the dawn of sweater weather with some insights into the origins offallandautumn—and another, even older name for the season.

Quick summary

The namesautumnandfallare both commonly used.Autumnis thought to be slightly older, appearing in the 1300s, with the wordfallfirst appearing around the 1500s in reference to leaves falling off trees. An even earlier name for the season isharvest.

Where does the wordautumncome from?

The wordautumncomes from the Frenchautompne, from the Latinautumnus, whose deeper roots are obscure. It’s first recorded in English as early as the late 1300s—notably, both Chaucer and Shakespeare used it in their works.

Today, speakers of American English commonly use bothfallandautumnto refer to the season, thoughfallbecame more common in the US by the late 1800s. Speakers ofBritish Englishlargely useautumn.

Why is it calledfall?

Recorded use of the wordfallas the name of the third season of the year comes from as early as the 1500s. The name is thought to originate in the phrasethe fall of the leaf, in reference to the time of year whendeciduoustrees shed their leaves. The name of its inverse season,spring, is thought to come from the phrasespring of the leaf—the time when everything is blossoming.

The namefallwas commonly used in England until about the end of the 1600s, when it was ousted byautumn.

The multiple senses of the word fall come in handy for the helpful reminder “Spring Forward, Fall Back,” which serves as amnemonicabout how to set our clocks fordaylight-saving time.

When isfall?

In the Northern Hemisphere, fall is roughly between August and November, technically lasting from theautumnal equinox(around the end of September) until thewinter solstice(around the end of December). In the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are flipped, fall is roughly between the end of March and the end of June.

Discover all the facts aboutequinoxvs.solsticehere.

Another (even older) name forfallandautumn

The earliest known name for the season in English isharvest. It comes from the Old English wordhærfest, of Germanic origin, perhaps with an underlying, ancient sense of “picking, plucking” (as in, picking fruits to harvest them).

Eventually, the use ofharvestas a name for the season fell out of use, instead becoming used for the period whenripenedcrops are harvested—gathered for processing and winter storage. The wordharvestcan also refer collectively to those ripened, gathered crops themselves.

Can you quickly tell the difference between a squash and a gourd? Learn more here.

Looking for more explanation?

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Whether you call it autumn, fall, or "best season of the year," do you know when to capitalize the name of this and all the seasons?

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