why is autumn called fall

Why is Autumn Called Fall?

Why is it that we have two very common terms for the same season, both autumn and fall?  Both words refer to the same period of time that resides between summer and winter seasons.  In the United States, we typically use the term Fall more often.  Whereas, in Europe and other areas outside the U.S., the more prevalent term is autumn.  Believe it or not, there was actually a 3rd term used for this season at one point in our history.  More on this below…

Officially, autumn or fall, extends from the fall equinox to through the winter solstice.  The exact dates follow a pattern and depend on the year.  It starts roughly September 21st, 22nd, or 23rd and ends sometime between December 20th and 23rd.

Fall Equinox

Also called the autumnal or September equinox, the fall equinox is the day of the year where day and night are of approximately equal time periods.  In fact, the meaning of equinox is “equal night” in Latin.  This is also the day where the sun passes directly over the equator and is neither tilted toward, or away from, the earth.  This is the day we switch from summer to fall.  What day does fall begin this year? Check here

Winter Solstice

In contrast to the fall equinox, winter solstice is the day fall ends.  This is the point of the year when the earth is tilted away from the sun at its maximum.  Because of this, it also happens to be the day with the least amount of daylight throughout the entire year.  Many cultures throughout history have considered the winter solstice significant, marking it symbolic of the death and rebirth of the Sun.

Difference Between Autumn and Fall

As discussed in this segment from the Weather Channel, for many years, autumn was term for the season between summer and winter.  Although the exact origin of the word autumn is not known, it has a Latin meaning, loosely meaning “end of harvest”.  The term is first recognized for being used in the 14th century.

Around the same time, there was a period of time where the season was called “Harvest”.  It’s a fitting word since this is the time of year that most farmers are harvesting their crops.  One of Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definitions of harvest is “the season for gathering in a crop.”  However, this was also somewhat confusing since it was difficult to discern between the season and the time spent gather crops.

Starting in the 16th century, shortly before the Puritans came from Europe to North America, the season was called the “fall of the leaf”.  Of course that was quite a mouthful and quickly became just “fall.”  

Hello Autumn/Fall

The Origins and Usage

Despite popular belief that the word fall started in the United States, each of these terms actually originated in Britain.  It is true today that autumn is more commonly used in British English and fall is more common in American English.  However, different parts of the United States still use the term autumn often. Both terms are correct and really mean the same thing.  They are often used interchangeably.

Fall Weather

Since this blog is centered around weather and weather observation, we should discuss what makes fall/autumn different and what weather you can expect as the leaves turn colors and other changes take place throughout this wonderful season.  One of the reasons fall is a favorite season for so many is the changing weather.  Summer and winter can be boring at times.  It’s always hot and muggy, or cold in the case of winter.  There’s little change from day to day in these seasons 

Fall Weather

In the fall, weather often starts off warm and sunny with some changes taking place within our environment.  As the air temperature starts to cool down, the leaves start to change to beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow!  In some areas of the United States, tourists travel hundreds or thousands of miles just to see the changing colors of the trees.

Later in the fall, the air becomes more brisk and again the weather starts to change.  With the cooler weather often comes some rain.  Again, a vivid picture of what some think of in fall or autumn is the windy, rainy weather bringing down those leaves from the trees.  This “autumn rain”, just as they are beginning to turn from all the beautiful colors mentioned above to the brown color of death. 

autumn rain

Speaking of weather observations, fall is actually an ideal time of year to start up your new hobby.  With the weather changing so frequently, its great fun to keep track of them day to day.  It’s also one of the most comfortable seasons to be outside checking on it.  Of course, if ask us, the best way to really keep tabs on the weather in any season is to invest in a good weather station.

The last changes in autumn come as everything starts to turn cold and dead.  Next thing you know, it’s winter time again.  Take full advantage during this fall season and enjoy the outdoors.  Grab a weather station and give observing a try.