Walking through the park to the supermarket it’s clear that winter is here. A final few leaves clinging to the trees, the season we know as autumn or fall is over and with it the annual conversations I sometimes have with clients about the relative merits of the terms.
In Old English people used fiæll or fall to describe the season when the leaves fall from the trees, although as early as the 14th century, the word autumn was also known, as Chaucer illustrates:
Autumpne comes ageyne heuy of apples [Autumn comes again, heavy of apples]Chaucer’s translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy
The two words clearly co-existed for some centuries, with fall in common use in many parts of the UK, and this was the word that crossed the Atlantic and took root in the US.
Fall‘s English roots are sometimes a surprise to Brits. Certainly, many of my generation in the UK were brought up being told to avoid such ‘Americanisms’ although nowadays, both variants are heard.
So, back to those client conversations – which should you use in your business writing? Here are some pointers to help you decide.
As always, consider your audience. If you’re a US business selling to a British audience, there are many occasions when localizing to British English will help you to gain your customers’ trust. Particularly if your target market includes those who were taught during their schooldays to avoid being ‘American’, the choice of vocabulary will determine the emotional response that they have to your copy.
Similarly, if you’re addressing your employees in an internal bulletin or communicating with stakeholders, you can enhance the feeling of ‘shared purpose/interest’ by using the vocabulary that they would routinely use.
There are times, however, when you’ll want to use language to support your brand’s roots and add ‘colour’ (or should that be ‘color’?) For example, if you’re a company selling English cider from Somerset to the US, you’ll perhaps provide an authentic touch by talking about the apple orchards in autumn. And if you’re a US company whose employees globally have a strong sense of pride in being part of an American brand, then you’ll probably have a fall newsletter.
And if you write for non-native speakers of English? Generally, the same principles as above will apply, though you may want to consider the most common language variant in use in their location or what is taught in the education system to decide which form will have the most impact and clarity.
AND ‘DOWN UNDER’…
Don’t forget the ‘other’ Englishes. For example, Australia, as a former British colony, tends towards autumn. It may seem very obvious, but worth a reminder nevertheless that autumn comes at a totally different time of year in the southern hemisphere. So if you’re sending your ‘autumn news’ email to your Australian customers, consider whether you need a ‘spring news’ version instead…
Now, as we move into winter, the conversation turns towards unravelling the holidays (not vacations), Chrimbo, bread sauce and the great Santa vs Father Christmas debate.
Happy December everyone!