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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Fall

Are people who call it autumn smarter than you? Is falling off a log really that easy? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Fall. Are those huge piles of leaves concealing even bigger piles of crap?

Lie #1: You’re Supposed to Call It Autumn

“Autumn” just sounds fancier than “fall,” doesn’t it? It’s got that silent “n,” just waiting for a suffix to come along so it can make itself known and you can say “autumnal” like you’re the sort of person who has a favorite museum. The fall equivalent of that is what, “fall-al”? “Fall-y”? Either way, shit.

Is it that shit, though? “Spring” and “fall” make much more sense as opposites, stemming from the 16th-century expressions “spring of the leaf” and “fall of the leaf.” “Autumn” was adopted from the French automne, which in turn came from the Latin autumnus, but the origins of that word are really murky, so it could mean anything — damn-it-I-forgot-my-jacket season, slip-in-dogshit-covered-in-leaves season, anything. 

For a while, they were used fairly interchangeably — Shakespeare liked autumn, Sir Walter Raleigh liked fall — but when America sprang out on its own linguistically, for no good reason, everyone doubled down: Britain decided it was all about autumn while America embraced fall. Unlike dropping the u from “colour” and other deliberate attempts to make American English its own thing, it seems to have been completely arbitrary.

In terms of which is actually better, well, it depends. Referring to late middle age as “the autumn of your life” sounds a lot more poetic than “the fall of your life,” which sounds like it should be written on a No Fear pro-bungee jump T-shirt. “Spring forward, fall back,” meanwhile, works really well as a way of remembering the direction of daylight saving changes — using “autumn” in that sentence renders it little more than gibberish. So it’s a draw, really. 

Lie #2: “Leaf-Peeping” is a Wholesome Hobby

Leaf-peeping is the name given to the autumnal tourist phenomenon of millions of Americans leaving the city to head into rural parts of the country, where they ooh and aah at the rich tones of the leaves. Leaving aside the fact that “leaf-peeping” as a name sounds both childlike and voyeuristic (not a pleasing combination at all), what you’re looking at is actually death. When leaves change color from green to various shades of red, orange and yellow, it’s not to give you something great for the ‘gram, it’s because they’re fucked.

When starved of light by shorter days, a tree eventually absorbs the chlorophyll (the chemical that gives leaves their green color) it previously used to absorb energy from the sun, and ends up severing parts of itself to stay alive. Leaves don’t fall from trees — they’re abandoned by them in its bid to survive the winter. Marveling at the sight of a tree changing color and shedding its leaves is like delightedly watching a puppy barely escape drowning, ya fuckin’ weirdo.

Lie #3: People Just Can’t Stop Falling On Banana Peels

A person slipping on a discarded banana peel is a comedy staple, up there with “person carrying plank turns around and knocks someone out” or “trousers fall down, revealing human ass.” How frequent an occurrence is it, though, really? Aren’t most people that snack on fruit conscientious enough not to litter? And how slippery even are they? 

Well, it definitely can happen: Earlier this year, a woman in Auckland was left with permanent injuries after a banana peel slip, and in 2013, a Staten Island man slipped on one and fell onto a train line. In 2016, a short-lived internet trend saw a bunch of teenagers deliberately fucking themselves up on them.

Back in 2009, Mythbusters investigated and discovered that, while a rotting banana peel is a fucking deathtrap, a fresh one is pretty hard to slip on (the freshness of a slipped-on banana — as judged by its color — has been an issue in a lot of legal cases). The slipping-on-a-nana gag as seen in movies, though, generally relies on someone peeling a banana and discarding the peel, subsequently sending a bystander skidding (as seen as early as 1880, in an anti-Irish cartoon in Harpers). Unless you’re particularly unlucky, that’s not going to happen. It does, however, prove that Billy Madison is a many-layered masterpiece.

Lie #4: You Should Try to Stay Calm If You Fall Out of a Plane

No, don’t try to artificially calm yourself: Just panic, be terrified and pass the fuck out, because a completely floppy, relaxed, unconscious body is much more likely to survive the impact of a fall from high altitude. However much you might consciously try to relax, if you’re plummeting toward almost-certain doom, you’re likely to be about as relaxed as that bulging-veined kid from the meme, so you’re better off being totally out of it.

Almost all the people who have survived extraordinarily high falls have done so because they passed out. In 1942, Soviet lieutenant Ivan Chisov bailed out of a plane at 23,000 feet, intending to deploy his parachute as late as possible to avoid being spotted, but instead lost consciousness. He fell all the way down and survived. In 1943, American airman Alan Magee passed out from loss of oxygen while plummeting 22,000 feet and made it. In 1944, Nicholas Alkemade of the Royal Air Force survived jumping out of his burning plane at 18,000 feet (leaving behind his also-burning parachute) after blacking out. In 1972, Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulović survived a world-record fall of 33,000 feet because she was unconscious… You get the idea.

It’s the same reason this magnificently wasted idiot survives the kind of fall that would snap the neck of a more sober individual: Sure, he’s too drunk to walk, but he’s also too drunk to die.

Lie #5: Falling Off A Log Is Easy 

“It’s as easy as falling off a log” is one of those figures of speech you use without questioning it, but is falling off a log really that easy? To find out, let’s ask the kind of person who would find it easier than most — a Hollywood stunt performer. Andreas Petrides, professional stuntman, founder of the British Action Academy and stunt double for Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, has some thoughts.

“Let’s base this on a large log, say five to six feet in diameter, laying on its side, where the camera wants to see the faller hit the ground in a wide shot,” he says. “First you need to ensure that the performer is competent, warmed up and prepared, so when they fall it looks unplanned rather than choreographed — a hard skill to master when performing most stunts.” Note the use of the word “hard” there, the binary opposite of easy.

“It’s important that the performer falls and lands using softer parts of the body, not putting their hands down — which is a natural instinct — as they easily get injured,” he continues. Again, the word “easy” is coming up in the context of something not to do, suggesting this entire log expression needs rethinking.

“We would, if possible, make the ground softer for the fall, digging out and putting down loose soil, leaves and foliage for a soft landing. If we couldn’t make the landing soft, we’d use body padding on the areas of the body that will impact the ground. When falling from the log, the performer should be relaxed, not rigid, with elbows and knees tucked in and their chin on their chest to avoid the head recoiling backwards upon landing.” All of this sounds quite, quite difficult. Digging, preparing, training oneself to relax when falling (something we’ve already concluded is on the tricky side).

“Ideally you want to land feet first, knees bent and roll down onto the soft parts of your body, such as the calf, outside thighs and hips and outer lower back,” concludes Petrides, “similar to a parachute landing fall, but messier.”

You know what sounds easier than that? Staying on the fucking log. What a stupid Goddamn expression.