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Spring Forward, Fall Back and Similar Expressions

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Clocks “fall back” in autumn, or fall.


Many people in North America and the United Kingdom (UK) use the terms spring forward and fall back when they refer to the Daylight Saving Time (also referred to as Daylight Savings Time) start and end dates. This is because DST changes in these countries occur in the spring and in the fall (or autumn) seasons.

The term to spring forward refers to when people move their clocks one hour forward, marking the start of DST. It is an easy-to-remember term for people in countries such as Canada, the UK and the USA. This is because the DST start date coincides with the spring season in these countries. It is the time of the year when the days begin to have longer hours of sunlight after the end of winter. In addition, the start of DST adds an extra hour of daylight to the evenings.

To fall back on the other hand, suggests that one must set the clocks one hour back when DST ends. It is associated with the fall (autumn) season because the DST schedule ends in the fall. The fall season and the end of daylight saving time mark a period when the days start getting shorter, with fewer hours of sunlight.

Records have shown that the phrase spring forward, fall back has been in use at least as far back as early 20th century. For example, the Heppner Gazette-Times (October 28, 1928) printed a notice, stating “Daylight Savings Time ends this Sunday, October 31. Remember to set your clocks back one hour, ‘Spring forward – Fall Back!’”.

A different way to remember the direction of DST switches is more popular in countries where English is not the main language: In the spring, you place the garden furniture in front of the house (clocks are turned forwards), and in the autumn you put it back into the house (clocks are turned backwards).

Other terms to describe DST

The expressions spring ahead and spring up are also used to describe the action of setting clocks one hour ahead for DST. These terms are mainly used in the USA and Canada to remind people about DST, which starts on the second Sunday of March and coincides with the spring season in both countries. It is common for the media to use catchy phrases such as “Make the clocks spring ahead one hour” to remind people about the start of DST. Another term used to describe the end of DST in Canada and the USA is “fall behind”.

March forward is another term used to remind people about the DST start dates and is used in many countries where it starts in March, such as Canada, the USA and the UK. It is important to note that the UK observes DST as part of the European Union’s (EU) daylight saving schedule, which starts on the last Sunday of March each year.

Daylight saving time is abbreviated as DST, which is also widely used. Other phrases associated with the DST start date, regardless of which hemisphere a country is in (eg. Australia and New Zealand), include push the clocks forward, turn the clocks ahead, and shift the clocks forward. There is also the expression, gain an hour here, lose an hour there, which describes the start and end of DST, as well as changing the clock.

Daylight Time, refers to the DST schedule itself. Many people and the media also sometimes, mistakenly use the expressions “daylight savings” or “daylight savings time” instead of daylight saving time, which is the correct expression.

Summer Time and other DST terms

Summer time is also commonly used to refer to DST, particularly in the United Kingdom. The term can be found in various bills and Acts about DST in the United Kingdom, including the Summer Time Acts of 1916, 1925 and 1972. British Summer Time (BST) is the period in which DST is observed in the United Kingdom. The term winter time is used for standard time, or time without DST.

In Germany, which was one of the first countries to observe DST, the term sommerzeit (summer time) is generally used to refer to DST. On April 6, 1916, the German Federal Council decreed that its summer daylight saving time would be instituted as a wartime measure, starting the last Sunday of that month.

DST during World War II

Daylight saving time was referred to as War Time in the USA during World War II. In the UK, it was known as British Double Summer Time during the summer months, and British Summer Time during the winter months. It was also known as Central War Time, Eastern War Time, Mountain War Time, and Pacific War Time, depending on the time zone in the United States. After World War II, it was loosely referred to as Eastern Peace Time. DST was also known as Hitler Time in some parts of Europe, as well as Berlin Time and sommerzeit, during World War II. After the war, DST had other references, including Summer Time Daylight Saving, which refers to daylight saving time occurring during the warmer, summer months during the year.

Feedback on more DST–related expressions

We would like to hear from you! If you know of other expressions that relate to daylight saving time, indcluding phrases and expressions used to describe DST start and end dates, let us know. You can do this by writing to webmaster@timeanddate.com or clicking on the Feedback link at the bottom of the page.

Note: The terms used in this article may have different meanings depending on the context and reference, but for this article only, these terms refer to the topic of daylight saving time.  It is also important to note that not all parts of Canada and the USA follow DST. Moreover, whilst autumn is the more common term for fall in the UK, there are UK articles or other media sources using the phrase spring forward together with fall back.