Skip to main content

Fall Vs. Autumn

June 2023
1min read

A PAIR OF SYNONYMS ENCAPSULATE CENTURIES OF HISTORY


You know what the word Autumn means, but do you ever use it? Not very often, if you’re like most Americans. Saying autumn , like spelling color as colour or talking with an English accent, conveys in this country the tone of mild pretentiousness (or, in advertisements, elegance) that we associate with
things British—a notion that would surprise a resident of the seamier portions of Birmingham or Bradford. Autumn is all but universal in Britain, as fall is in the United States. How did this happen?

The answer goes back to the seventeenth century, when the first great wave of emigrants crossed the Atlantic. At that time, both autumn and fall (often as part of the phrase fall of the leaf ) were common in England. After the Revolution, British
usage began shifting to the more Latinate term, influenced perhaps by Continental usage (French
automne , Spanish otono , Italian autunno ) or upper-class striving for refinement. Americans, much less affected by such influences,
stuck with their Yankee ancestors’ simple and direct term. John Keats, an Englishman, began his “To
Autumn” with the lines, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness / Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.” By contrast, James Whitcomb Riley’s peerless American poem about the season climaxes with “Oh, it sets my heart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock / When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.” A nation that could produce those lines was bound to opt for the short and bluntly descriptive term over the more cultivated Old World variant.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate