Autumn is coming. With him come the golden leaves at the foot of the trees, the walks in the forest to collect chestnuts, the picking of mushrooms or chestnuts. It is also synonymous with afternoons spent curling up by the fire, a steaming cup of tea in our hands. This season is characterized by a gradual drop in temperatures before the arrival of winter, and days that shorten between sunrise and sunset. Nature is then adorned with bright colors: gold, red, brown, orange. "Autumn is a melancholy and graceful andante that beautifully prepares the solemn adagio of winter," wrote George Sand.
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But do you really know the meaning of the word "autumn"? Did you know that it once had another name? We offer you a small grammar point: the word "autumn" can be used in the feminine but also in the masculine. As the Littré reminds us, it is used in the feminine when the adjective immediately follows, for example: "this delicious autumn." On the other hand, it will be masculine when the adjective precedes the noun. For example, "a beautiful autumn". But also when a verb or adverb is between the noun "autumn" and an adjective: "autumn is beautiful."
A name of Etruscan origin
Did you know? The word "autumn" is borrowed as early as the thirteenth century in Old French from the Latin "autumnus", a term of probably Etruscan origin ("autu") and probably borrowed by the Romans. But the latter compared it to the verb "augere", which means "to grow" (from the same group as the verb "to increase"). Among the Greeks, we did not speak of autumn, but of the "post-summer" period (called "opora") and then of that "beyond the opora" (called "metoporon"). With these two words, they distinguished this time of year which corresponds to the transition from summer to winter. According to what can be read in the Historical Dictionary of the French Language, Greek symbolism would have been recovered then by the word perhaps Etruscan, then Latin.
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Before borrowing the Latin word "autumnus" between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, our ancestors used another word to designate this post-summer period and which precedes the cold days of winter. The word "autumn" came quite late. Until then, it was called "gain" and then "gain", that is to say literally the "time of the harvest", after the original meaning of the verb "to win". Indeed, in the twelfth century, the verb "gaaignier", from the Frankish "waidanjan", meant "to obtain food, to graze the cattle". The word "gain" is formed from the stem of this verb. Faithful to the first definition of the verb "to win", it was used in Old French in the sense of "time of acquisition of crops". The word "autumn" has gradually replaced this term, the meaning of which has changed today.
"After August" or "late season"
In the popular and rural French of yesteryear, it was also referred to as "après-août" or "arrière-saison", which have become synonymous with autumn. A word that emphasizes the lack of sharpness of autumn compared to the end of summer. The late season has become synonymous with the time to harvest the fruits. This is the last part of the year that follows the beautiful season (summer) but which still retains its character and which, sometimes, prolongs it. Fall marks the end of a production season before winter and the new months before the new harvest. A word used in his time by Maupassant: "And I had a tightness of heart when I thought of these wrecks of life, these sad lost beings, this marriage of the late season after the last hope flown away."
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From the idea of harvesting, we have moved to that of "decline" or "decadence". This season also symbolizes decadence. The words "autumn" and "autumn" are often used to signify the transition from maturity to old age. It is said of someone that he is "in the autumn of his life". According to the Treasury of the French Language, "decadence" is the "state of what begins to fall, to collapse". The leaves of the trees become red, yellow, because they are weakened by the decrease in chlorophyll. Note that the name of autumn in English is "Fall" which means the "fall", referring to the decline of the beautiful season that comes with autumn.
In a year, we have two equinoxes: the "vernal equinox" also called the "spring equinox", around March 20, and the autumnal equinox, on September 23. This is a time of year when, the sun crossing the celestial equator it passes vertically from the Earth's equator, the day has a duration equal to that of the night, from one Arctic circle to another. The word "equinox" is attested as early as the thirteenth century, from the Latin "aequinoctium", from "aequus" meaning "equal" and "nox, noctis" designating "night". This is the time when the sun passes from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. Not to be confused with the spring or autumn solstice which corresponds to a maximum duration of day and night, alternately and in opposite ways between the two hemispheres.