The word fail comes to us through Middle English failen, through Anglo-Norman failir, from the Old French word falir, which meant "to make a mistake". This is not too big of a change from today, but is important as we trace the term further to Latin fallere, which meant "to trip", since tripping is a mistake. Earlier, that meant "to cause to fall", and it's from the Proto-Indo-European root bhal, "to deceive". This makes sense as deception can also lead to tripping, which causes falls. All right, rewind for a second. You might have noticed that fallere sounds the word "fall" and also means "fall". Is there a connection? Nope! Fall, through Old English feallan and Proto-Germanic fallana, traces to a Proto-Indo-European root sounding like pol and actually meaning "fall" for real this time (also the root of the synonym for "autumn"). Not a fail.
Adam Aleksic is a 219-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam is awaiting his college rescissions and loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd