Macquarie Dictionary


Autumn leaves fall down

As the temperature drops from summer to autumn (and into winter), the leaves start to change colour and fall from the trees, and we button up our cardigans, pull on our woollen socks and make (yet another) cup of tea. Autumn is well and truly here.

We have words for various weather phenomena in Australia, such as knock ’em down rains in the Northern Territory, as well as a host of words for heat across the nation.

But we were recently asked why exactly it is that in Australia (and other countries) we call the season autumn while in the United States (and other places) it is called fall.

The word autumn comes to us from Latin autumnus; replacing Middle English autompne, originating from Old French, and is used to refer to the season between summer and winter. In the southern hemisphere, this is understood to include the months of March, April and May, generally following the calendar dates of 1 March to 31 May.

In the northern hemisphere, this is generally from mid-September to mid-December, and falls between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice.

The word fall is also used to refer to the season, though is chiefly an Americanism. The word fall comes to us from Middle English falle(n) from the Old English feallan, and is thought to refer to the act of trees shedding their leaves ahead of winter.

The word fall, while not commonly used in other parts of the world to refer to this season, can be useful when reminding us about daylight savings time. We ‘spring’ forward and ‘fall’ back.

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