Skip to content

Fallout

July 19, 2006

I love etymologies.

I’m working on my company’s profile of Boeing right now, and I wrote a heading for one section, “September 11 fallout,” and began to wonder: does the term fallout date from the nuclear age, or somewhen before? If the former, isn’t it weird how quickly it became an established word to mean any number of things, and really how, when we use it, we don’t really even think of its nuclear origins?

So I looked it up:

fall (v.)Look up fall at Etymonline.com

O.E. feallan (class VII strong verb; past tense feoll, pp. feallen), from P.Gmc. *fallanan (cf. O.N. falla, O.H.G. fallan), from PIE base *phol- “to fall” (cf. Armenian p’ul “downfall,” Lith. puola “to fall,” O.Prus. aupallai “finds,” lit. “falls upon”). Noun sense of “autumn” (now only in U.S.) is 1664, short for fall of the leaf (1545). That of “cascade, waterfall” is from 1579. Most of the figurative senses had developed in M.E. Meaning “to be reduced” (as temperature) is from 1658. To fall in love is attested from 1530; to fall asleep is 1393. Fall guy is from 1906. Fallout “radioactive particles” is from 1950. Fallen “morally ruined” is from 1628.

Turns out it is from the 1950s. Also interesting is the fact that the phrase “fall in love” dates from 1530. What did people say before that? Did people not fall in love before then? Surely they did, but how did they describe it to their friends, or to the person with whom they were falling in love?

Also: how strange — and strangely appropriate — that we often talk of fallout from a relationship gone bad, one into which we may have originally gotten by — that’s right — falling in love.

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: