Old English befeallan "to deprive of; fall to, occur to, be assigned to," from be- "by, about" + feallan (see fall (v.)). Compare Old Frisian bifalla, Old Saxon, Old High German bifallan, German befallen. Intransitive sense of "to happen, come to pass" is from c. 1300. Related: Befell; befalling.
Entries linking to befall
word-forming element of verbs and nouns from verbs, with a wide range of meaning: "about, around; thoroughly, completely; to make, cause, seem; to provide with; at, on, to, for;" from Old English be- "about, around, on all sides" (the unstressed form of bi "by;" see by (prep.)). The form has remained by- in stressed positions and in some more modern formations (bylaw, bygones, bystander).
The Old English prefix also was used to make transitive verbs and as a privative prefix (as in behead). The sense "on all sides, all about" naturally grew to include intensive uses (as in bespatter "spatter about," therefore "spatter very much," besprinkle, etc.). Be- also can be causative, or have just about any sense required. The prefix was productive 16c.-17c. in forming useful words, many of which have not survived, such as bethwack "to thrash soundly" (1550s) and betongue "to assail in speech, to scold" (1630s).
Old English feallan (class VII strong verb; past tense feoll, past participle feallen) "to drop from a height; fail, decay, die," from Proto-Germanic *fallanan (source also of Old Frisian falla, Old Saxon fallan, Dutch vallen, Old Norse falla, Old High German fallan, German fallen, absent in Gothic).
These are from PIE root *pol- "to fall" (source also of Armenian p'ul "downfall," Lithuanian puolu, pulti "to fall," Old Prussian aupallai "finds," literally "falls upon").
The meaning "come suddenly to the ground" is from late Old English. Of darkness, night, from c. 1600; of land sloping from 1570s; of prices from 1570s. Of empires, governments, etc., from c. 1200. Of the face or countenance from late 14c. The meaning "to be reduced" (as temperature) is from 1650s. That of "die in battle" is from 1570s. The meaning "to pass casually (into some condition)" is from early 13c.
To fall in "take place or position" is from 1751. To fall in love is attested from 1520s; to fall asleep is late 14c. (Middle English also used slide asleep, etc.). To fall down is early 13c. (a-dun follon); to fall behind is from 1856. Fall through "fail, come to nothing" is from 1781. To fall for something is from 1903.
To fall out is by mid-13c. in a literal sense; military use is from 1832. The meaning "have a disagreement, begin to quarrel" is attested from 1560s (to fall out with "quarrel with" is from late 15c.).
updated on October 06, 2022