PEARTREE LIFE: Experiencing Languages

Let's get intellectual. This week - etymology! Anyway, don't 'fall' behind with your English, come and study at Peartree this 'autumn'!

English vocabulary, or even grammar, is not the same worldwide. The main differences could be spotted in the British and in the American English.

As we are approaching the season of pumpkins and multicoloured leaves, there’s one particular thing you might have missed and you absolutely need to know if you are travelling.

The third season of the year has in fact two names: ‘autumn’ in the UK and ‘fall’ in the USA. Why? Despite the American English is a more recent language than the British one, the term ‘fall’ was actually used before ‘autumn’ became in “fashion” in 18th century referring to the french term ‘automne’. But nobody’s really sure about the etymology of this word, as this is just an hypothesis.

What no one knows instead is that both of the terms are preceded by a third and a fourth one: ‘lent’ (or ‘lenten’) and ‘harvest’. Lenten refers to the sacred spring observance of the Christian church.

On the other hand, ‘harvest’ comes from really ancient times and habits, referring to the period of the year when farmers gathered their crops for winter. Then, people started living in the cities rather than in the countryside, and ‘harvest’ gradually lost its meaning.

Some people think that ‘autumn’ could even have a Latin root, from the term ‘autumnus’ but once again this is just another hypothesis. What’s the etymology of the word ‘fall’ then? Apparently it was used for the first time during the 16th century coming from the expressions ‘fall of the year’ or ‘fall of the leaf’ that were then shortened to the current term.

Fall’s origins are German, and since the time of its formation it always referred to the falling of leaves, fruits and of the whole nature from a metaphorical point of view. Way back in the days, autumn didn’t even exist for Anglo-Saxons.

They apparently had only winter as a season and summer was considered as the end of the hardest time of the year. Autumn was then recognised as a proper season from the 12th-13th century.

Nowadays, both fall and autumn are accepted as synonyms in every anglophone country. Even if it is said that ‘fall’ is more of an American and Canadian word while ‘autumn’ is British, you can read them both in newspapers or novels from these two countries. The difference between these two words then is not the country they’re used in, but the use depending on the situation. In fact, it is recognised that ‘autumn’ should be used in formal situation.

Photo by Ms. Tereza Tothova!

On the other hand, ‘fall’ seems to be more informal. However journalists and novelists use them both, despite the context caring a bit more about not repeating the same word throughout a text. So, there’s no need to worry about which term you should use according to the country you're travelling to, but it’s always interesting knowing where words and their meanings actually come from!

Anyway, don't 'fall' behind with your English, come and study at Peartree this 'autumn'! 
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About Peartree Languages

Peartree Languages is a language school located in Cardiff.


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