autumn vs. fall

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Nov 9 18:38:25 UTC 2010

At 5:43 PM +0100 11/9/10, Paul Frank wrote:
>Brander Matthews (1852-1929) once wrote, "An American with a sense of
>the poetic cannot but prefer to the imported word 'autumn' the native
>and more logical word 'fall,' which the British have strangely
>suffered to drop into disuse."
>Is the word "autumn," as opposed to "fall," gaining popular currency
>in American English? Over the past five years or so, I've noticed it
>more and more in American newspapers, magazines, and on the radio. I
>realize that the word "autumn" has always been available to Americans,
>but I'm wondering if it's becoming more common...
And not just over the past 5 years.  Compare this eloquent plaint
from over a decade ago:
... "Since the autumn of the Berlin Wall a decade ago, rightist
violence has become a fact of German life" (IHT, August 2 [2000], p.
5). This makes me think that a New York Times slot man or drudge
makes it his business to replace the word fall with the posher but in
my opinion uglier word autumn.

More likely some stylistic rule that makes the change. Reminds me of
that list of songs printed somewhere, that included "African-American
is the Color of My True Love's Hair."

RIma [McKinzey]
For British English, though, a distinction is sometimes made between
the three-month season and the actual leaf-dropping, as witness the
minimal pair in this observation:

The fall had come late this year, and after one of the most beautiful
autumns she could remember.

--P. D. James (2004), The Murder Room


The American Dialect Society -

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