The Historical Meaning Behind Why Autumn Is Called ‘Fall’

It traces back to Latin and Old English roots.

by Chelsey Grasso
Originally Published: 
Why is Autumn called Fall?

Many people consider the fall their favorite time of year and most of us can guess where the term "fall" came from. If you can't guess, don't worry, I'll explain that too. However, why do we call fall "autumn"? There is a real reason — and it's somewhat interesting, believe it or not.

The terms "fall" and "autumn" can be used interchangeably in the United States, though, when it comes down to it, it's actually the term "fall" that is more popular in America. According to Grammarist, the fact that those who consider British English to be "the true English" actually consider the term "fall" to be "an American barbarism."

As it turns out, these intense feelings regarding the popular terminology for this season may date back to the founding of America when both "fall" and "autumn" were first being used in the English language. Below, learn where the terms "autumn" and "fall" come from, as well as the popular theory behind why America and England each ended up sticking with a primary word for the season instead of more zealously incorporating both terms into their common language.

Fall Was Initially Referred To As "Harvest"

Long before it was called "fall" or "autumn," the third season of the year was referred to as "harvest" in England. The season was given this name since it was the time of year when farmers would gather their crops and prepare them for winter storage, generally between August and November. The term "harvest" comes from the Old Norse word "haust," which means "to gather or pluck" — appropriate, considering the farm work during this time of year.

"Fall" And "Autumn" Became Popular As People Moved From Rural Areas To Cities

During the 1600s, more people began leaving rural farmlands to move into larger, metropolitan cities. Without farming, the term "harvest" became less applicable to those living in the city, and subsequently, "fall" and "autumn" emerged as two new names for the season. "Autumn" came from the Latin word "autumnus," with the root of the word meaning "the passing of the year." The term "fall" was likely a deviation from the Old English words "fiaell" and "feallan," both of which mean "to fall from a height." It is assumed that this new name for the season was inspired by the leaves falling from trees.

By The 19th Century, "Fall" Had Become An Americanism & "Autumn" Remained The Common British Term

During the 17th century, both "fall" and "autumn" rose to popularity in Britain, but it was the younger and "more poetic" term “fall” that ended up crossing the seas and leading in the American English language. Meanwhile, Britain ended up using "autumn" as their primary term for the season. While you'll still hear the word "autumn" used in America and "fall" used in Britain, you're much more likely to hear it the other way around.

The more you know!

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