Why Does Fall/Autumn Have Two Names?
2012-10-04 0:00

By Natalie Wolchover | Life’sLittleMysteries

Ambivalence over the name of the third season of the year reflects its status as a relatively new concept. As natural as it seems today, people haven’t always thought of the year in terms of four seasons.

Fifteen hundred years ago, the Anglo-Saxons marked the passage of time with just one season: winter, a concept considered equivalent to hardship or adversity that metaphorically represented the year in its entirety. For example, in the Old English epic poem "Beowulf," the title character rescues a kingdom that had been terrorized by a monster for "12 winters."

According to "Folk Taxonomies in Early English" (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003) by Earl R. Anderson, the importance of winter in marking the passage of time is evidenced by the constancy of its name over time and across many languages. "Winter" probably derives from a root word meaning "wet" that traces back more than 5,000 years.

Summer is also a time-honored concept, though perhaps never quite as weighty a one as winter, and this is evidenced by greater ambivalence over its name. In Old English, the word "gear" connoted the warmer part of the year. This word gave way to the Germanic "sumer," which is related to the word for "half." Eventually, speakers of Middle English (the language used from the 11th to 15th centuries) conceived of the year in terms of halves: "sumer," the warm half, and "winter," the cold half. This two-season frame of reference dominated Western thinking as late as the 18th century.

Incidentally, Chinese culture also had a two-season framework, but there, the major seasonal polarity was autumn (symbolizing adversity) and spring (symbolizing regeneration), with little importance given to the extremes of summer and winter.

In the West, the transitional seasons, being more trivial, were "not fully lexicalized in the language" until much later, Anderson wrote. Lexicalization is the realization of an idea in a single word.

In 12th- and 13th-century Middle English, spring was called "lent" or "lenten" (but this also meant the religious observance), and fall, when it was considered a season at all, was called "haerfest" (which also meant the act of taking in crops). In the 14th and 15th centuries, "lenten" gave way to a panoply of terms, including "spring," "spryngyng tyme," "ver" (Latin for "green"), "primetemps" (French for "new time"), as well as more complicated descriptive phrases. By the 17th century, "spring" had won out.

In terms of seasons, the period spanning the transition from summer to winter had the weakest credentials of all, and so it got lexicalized last. "Autumn," a Latin word, first appears in English in the late 14th century, and gradually gained on "harvest." In the 17th century, "fall" came into use, almost certainly as a poetic complement to "spring," and it competed with the other terms.

Finally, in the 18th century, "harvest" had lost its seasonal meaning altogether, and "fall" and "autumn" emerged as the two accepted names for the third season. But by the 19th century, "fall" had become an "Americanism": a word primarily used in the United States and one that was frowned upon by British lexicographers.

[...]

Read the full article at: news.yahoo.com




Related Articles
The Autumn People
Autumnal Equinox 2012: Facts About the First Day of Fall


Latest News from our Front Page

Pressure from the United Patriots Front Stops Mosque Plan
2016-04-28 20:10
Pressure from the United Patriots Front appears to have killed off a mosque development in Narre Warren North. The City of Casey council now looks likely to withhold planning approval for the development in a special meeting set for Tuesday night. A council report, to be considered by councillors on Tuesday, recommends that the approval be blocked. The mosque opponents’ cause has been helped by councillor ...
Police face questions over the influence of the Freemasons
2016-04-28 20:48
South Yorkshire Police today face questions over whether powerful 'secret society' the Freemasons held sway over the force at the time of Hillsborough. Families of victims say that officers who were Masons were promoted into powerful positions despite being ill-equipped, including match commander David Duckenfield. Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his ...
England Bans its Own Flag to Avoid Offending Muslims
2016-04-27 2:23
St. George's Cross "racist" towards immigrants Government officials said their city was ‘too multicultural’ to celebrate St George’s Day, England’s version of the 4th of July. The council said that displaying the English flag may have been seen as “racist” towards immigrants.
Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’
2016-04-27 2:09
Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown. The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent. He was part of a new order which emerged in ...
"Local Residents" Are Filmed Stealing Dozens of Bottles of Water at London Marathon Stop
2016-04-25 23:10
Editor's Comment: "Local" residents? Why bother blurring their faces? We know who they are. ... London marathon runners were robbed of dozens of bottled waters when thieves raided a refreshment area armed with trolleys during today's race. Nearby residents - including parents with children - were captured on camera piling up crates of free water handed out by volunteers during the 26-mile event. Marathon ...
More News »