Now that we’ve had the fall equinox, summertime is officially over, which means it must be falltime.
Or should it be “autumntime”? Or both? Or neither?
As we’ve discussed before, sometimes there isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason to the English language. Such is the case with the words for our seasons. For example, why do springtime, summertime and wintertime flow easily off our tongues, while it’s rare to hear an utterance of falltime?
And why is fall the only season with two names? It might be because it’s the newest seasonal label, and its naming coincided with Americans’ efforts to distinguish their language from British English.
The words “summer” and “winter” have been around for longer than “spring” and “fall.” Before English speakers conceived of four seasons, they described just two: the warmest and coldest. The in-between seasons, so to speak, did not have their own names, or at least not ones that everyone agreed upon.
Until the 16th century, if spring and fall were described at all, they went by different names. “Spring” was used in addition to “vere,” “lenten” and “primetemps,” while what we now know as fall was simply “harvest.”
It seems that the other words that sprung up for “spring” had fallen away by the time “fall” and “autumn” came around. So English speakers had agreed upon “spring” but were still in their vere/lenten/primetemps era for its cooler counterpart. That is, they were using both “autumn” and “fall” to describe the season.
And as American colonists worked to distinguish their version of English from British English, they opted for “fall” while Brits stuck with “autumn.”
Maybe we can all agree on “pumpkin spice season”? 🍂
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