Welcome to fall. Or is it autumn?

I just read an article in the online journal Slate, which pointed out that this is the only season with two “official” names. How did that happen?

We used to divide the year into only two seasons – the warmest months (summer) and the coldest (winter). The other two seasons, if referred to at all, went by different names over time. What we call spring was once lent or lenten. Fall was harvest.

It wasn’t until the 16th century, Slate notes, that we started talking about the periods immediately after summer and after winter as, respectively, the “fall of the leaf” and the “spring of the leaf”. Which became fall and spring.

So where does autumn come in?

Etymology sites report that the word has origins in the Old French autumpne or automne, from the Latin autumnus (also auctumnus, perhaps influenced by auctus: “increase”). But there’s debate over the origin and meaning, and why autumn became attached to the season.

A piece on dictionary.com says Shakespeare often used the word autumn, as in this passage from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “The spring, the summer, the childing autumn, angry winter.”

Autumn does have a certain ring. The poet John Donne wrote: “No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face.”

However, fall and spring seem like appropriate counterpoints, with the connotations of endings and beginnings. The branding seems right. So I’ll take fall – as a word, not as a season. Summer just ended, and we know what’s coming next. Bring on spring!

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

Sept. 26, 2018


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