What word goes with foliage?

There are a few that it’s seen near. You’ll often see references to flowers and foliage or foliage and flowers. You will also see references to green foliage, dense green foliage, lush green foliage, dark green foliage, and so on, and to dense foliage too. But especially around this time of year, and especially in eastern North America, the collocation to go with is fall foliage.

I grew up in Alberta. In the fall there, the leaves turn yellow and then fall off. That’s pretty much it. It’s a sort of interesting little change from the green, but it’s really just a step towards the enveloping buff and brown. When I moved to Massachusetts for grad school, my parents kept asking me, in our weekly phone calls, “Have the leaves changed colour yet?” I could not for the life of me understand this overweening interest they had in the deciduous decadence of forest foliage. And then the leaves started changing colour.

Where I work in Toronto I have a view of the Don Valley. Lots of lush greenery – that turns to reddery and yellowery in stages this time of year. It’s a glorious sight. People always love a chance to see the eastern fall foliage in full follies. Hotels in Vermont are very expensive this time of year. If you go for a stroll on a weekend day in the Don Valley parks in Toronto you’ll see an incredible quantity and variety of cameras. The paths are full of photographers filling their portfolios.

Yes, the folio in portfolio is related to foliage. So, incidentally, is foil as in aluminum foil. It all has to do with leaves. Do you feel that’s it’s a failure to say “foilage” instead of “foliage”? Well, here’s a fun bit of history for you: Latin folium “leaf” became French feuille (earlier foille), from which was derived feuillage (earlier foillage); this came into English as foillage. Then, in the 1600s, when we were rediscovering the classical roots of some of our words, this word was “corrected” to foliage to match the Latin. It turned over an old leaf, as it were.

Is foliage a suitable word for its sense, phonaesthetically? Do you find the soft /f/ and floppy /l/, and the shapes of their letters, to be leaf-like enough? Is it somehow a bushier word than leaves? And what else – does it taste of agile redistribution of letters? Do you see it going with golf or declaring I age? How close it is to fragile? Does a leaf, reflecting, see in it the green days a whole life ago – before it turns a glorious colour and leaves us?

5 responses to “foliage

  1. iN THE PROFESSIONALTHEATER IN THE USA (at least central, north and east) foilage is called “foylich” by most stagehands as in the “foylich” drop” or the “foylich” border or, “Bring another tree. We need more “foylich” over here.” Try it sometime. It almost always gets an appreciative laugh.

  2. Great column!
    FYI: the yellow and browns we see in fall leaves are there throughout the growing season. We see these colors only when the tree stops producing chlorophyll. The reds-purples we see in sugar maples particularly, are produced only after the growing season ends and certain tanins are present in the leaves. Cool heh?

  3. I really liked your discussion of the fall colors, the foliage. But when it came to “foil”, the word is not limited to leaves. We need a renaissance to include the fencing foil and other uses of that word.

    • Indeed, I sidestepped the other uses. The verb foil is not related, and the fencing foil probably isn’t either, though there’s some uncertainty about that one. I think I need to do a whole separate note on foil.

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