I’ve always assumed that autumn was the correct English word for the season and that fall was an annoying Americanism. However, I have since discovered, thanks to Google, that both words originated in Britain. Fall is an old term for the season, originating in the 16th century or earlier. It was originally ‘fall of the year’ or ‘fall of the leaf’, but it commonly took the one-word form by the 17th century, long before the development of American English. So, while the term is now widely used in the U.S., it is not exclusively American, nor is it American in origin.
In “The King’s English” (1908), H.W. Fowler [the British lexicographer] wrote, “Fall is better on the merits than autumn, in every way: it is short, Saxon (like the other three season names), picturesque; it reveals its derivation to everyone who uses it, not to the scholar only, like autumn.”
Having just spent my first fall in America, I’m inclined to agree with Fowler; the season really is best described by the word ‘fall’. I have never seen so many fallen leaves carpeting the ground or mounded in heaps on pavements, waiting for the leaf-sucker to do its rounds and vacuum them all up. Such a pity that there is little sign of compost heaps or gardens littered with leaves lying where they fall, providing humus for the soil and over-winter protection for bugs and little critters. No sooner had the leaves fallen than hundreds of leaf blowers were fired up and the neighbourhood yards cleared; neat little patches of lawn and the odd shrub or garden ornament emerging from the chaos of leaves. I think I preferred the gardens covered.