Early in the morning this Monday, the sun will align directly over the equator. This will create roughly 12 hour day and night durations for the whole world. Because of the equal day/night times, this is called the equinox (equal night) when it happens twice each year. And we can say that fall has officially arrived.
Today we designate “fall” for the time between the equinox and the winter solstice – from September to December. But it hasn’t always been called by that name. And “fall” is mostly an American and Canadian name – the British call it “autumn” instead. Here the terms are pretty interchangeable, but autumn is considered the formal name and isn’t as common.
In a time of agrarian-dominated cultures, this time between summer and winter was referred to simply as “harvest” and it was roughly August through November. Farmers harvested and then gathered their crops for winter storage during this time. Societies have now have evolved away from this farming lifestyle with its terminology and define the season astronomically instead.
The word fall comes from the Old English word “feallan” which means “to fall or to die.” Makes sense considering how leaves and other objects react to this time of year. Interestingly, those that study language cannot precisely find the origin of the word autumn. They can document that it was used as far back at the 1300s (by Chaucer), and Shakespeare (around 1600) often used the word, as in Midsummer Night’s Dream when one character describes the cycle of the year, “The spring, the summer, the childing autumn, angry winter.”
The word harvest comes from “haust” meaning “to gather or pluck” in Old Norse. In the early 1600s as more people started moving into cities, they began to use the phrase “fall of the leaf” to refer to the third season of the year when trees lose their leaves. And as English spread to the New World, lots of spellings and terms split as well, including autumn and fall.
For us, fall provides a simple one-syllable complement to its opposite season, spring, and gives us the helpful reminder, “Spring forward, Fall back,” when we get confused about our clocks on daylight savings. But that isn’t for another six weeks.
Incidentally, you may also wonder why the seasons are called seasons. The word “season” in this context comes from the Old French and Latin terms referring to sowing and planting. It shifted to refer to the time period when this happened, literally “seed-time.” And now to all three-month durations throughout the year.
So however you refer to it, I for one am thrilled to think that this oppressive heat will soon end. And fish-wise, we’ll have trout back in our ponds and cool temps will prevail. Hooray for Fall!
-Bruce Hallman, Environmental Education Specialist, Neosho National Fish Hatchery writes a biweekly column for The Neosho Daily News.