This Is Why The Third Season Of The Year Has Two Names

Is it nearly autumn, or is it nearly fall? The season is the only one that bears two names, both of which are equally popular. The two names are kind of like fraternal twins. They were born and popularized around the same time, but are far from being the same word.

To know why this is, it’s first important to understand that humanity had two seasons long before it had four. Winter and Summer dominated Western thinking as late at the 18th century, according to Live Science.

Meanwhile, Chinese culture emphasized the transitional seasons. They also had two seasons, but they symbolized the adversity of fall and the regeneration of spring, rather than the more basic “hot months” versus “cold months” of the West.

From 1100 to 1200, Middle English started referring to lent, which takes place in the Spring, and harvest, which takes place in the fall. Though the timeframes were not yet seasons, it planted the seed (no pun intended.)

Four small children throw fall leaves in the air
Seth Lemmons/ Flickr
Seth Lemmons/ Flickr

English borrowed the word “autumn” from Latin (as usual) to describe the time when warm weather becomes cold in a way other than “harvest” as fewer people worked the land and more moved into towns.

Similarly, lent became the word “spring” after a long transitional period of experimental roots and sounds that’s far too complicated for laymen’s terms. Its only relevance here is that “fall” then came about as the poetic antithesis of “spring.”

By the 19th century, Americans used the word “fall” to describe the third season, while Britain used the word “autumn”, but both terms have remained entirely interchangeable. In fact, America’s acceptance of the term “autumn” might symbolize the lasting impact of English literature on American culture.

Transversely, lexicon scholars would argue that “fall” is the more ideal term, being that it’s meaning is obvious to anyone while autumn is vague to those who don’t know it’s linguistic history.