The Reason Why Americans Refer to Autumn as Fall

alex_ugalek/iStock via Getty Images
alex_ugalek/iStock via Getty Images

Monday, September 23, 2019, marks the start of a new season—but what exactly you should call that season depends on where in the world you are and whom you ask. In Great Britain, the third season of the year usually has only one name: autumn. But if you hop across the Atlantic, you'll find that people use both fall and autumn interchangeably when referring to this time of year, making it the only season in the English language with two widely accepted names. So what is it about the season of Halloween pop-up stores, denim jackets, and pumpkin spice lattes that makes it so special?

According to Dictionary.com, fall isn't a modern nickname that followed the more traditional autumn. The two terms are actually first recorded within a few hundred years of each other.

Before either word emerged in the lexicon, the season between summer and winter was known as harvest, or hærfest in Old English. The word is of Germanic stock and meant "picking," "plucking," or "reaping," a nod to the act of gathering and preserving crops before winter.

In the 1500s, English speakers began referring to the seasons separating the cold and warm months as either the fall of the leaf or spring of the leaf, or fall and spring for short. Both terms were simple and evocative, but for some reason, only spring had staying power in Britain. By the end of the 1600s, autumn, from the French word autompne and the Latin autumnus, had overtaken fall as the standard British term for the third season.

Around the same time England adopted autumn, the first-ever British American colonists were voyaging to North America. With them they brought the words fall and autumn, and while the former fell out of fashion overseas, it solidified itself in the local vernacular by the time America won its independence. Today, using both words to describe the season before winter is still a uniquely American behavior.

Fall and autumn have the most complicated etymology, but there's a story behind all the words we use describe the four seasons. Here's how each season got its name.

[h/t Dictionary.com]

What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
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Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
Sedan504/iStock via Getty Images

And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Idioms: One or Two?

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