We take a look at the surprising origins behind the word ‘aftermath’


Most words that begin with ‘after-’ are self-explanatory. We can all understand why we talk about an ‘aftertaste’, an ‘aftershock’, or an ‘aftereffect’, but why do we talk about the consequences of an event as its ‘aftermath’?

It turns out that the ‘math’ in ‘aftermath’ has nothing to do with mathematics, but goes back to our agricultural past and an Anglo-Saxon word maeth, which means ‘a mowing’. Most crops are harvested once a year, but in the case of a grass crop, farmers might return and perform a second mowing or ‘aftermath’ after the initial harvest.

What started out as an agricultural term later came to be used metaphorically, so that you could compare a set of conditions that arise in the wake of an event to the fresh grass that springs up after mowing and call the conditions ‘the aftermath’. Over time the metaphor has ousted the literal meaning, and we are now accustomed to talking about the aftermath of an explosion, an earthquake, a war, or some other traumatic event without ever considering the word’s rustic origins.

Other Articles

Global Beatles Day

This Saturday 25 June is Global Beatles Day. Yes, that’s right: such a worldwide influence have the Beatles had that a day in the year is devoted to them and their legacy. They were the soundtrack to the lives of many people… Read More

Cheers! 4 unforgettable literary wines

Virginia Woolf once said, ‘language is wine upon the lips’, and we are very much inclined to agree. After all, is there a more classic pairing than a good book and a glass of wine? In literature, it seems absolutely not. For centuries, writers have written of gourmet feasts and… Read More

The Platinum Jubilee: Celebrating Her Majesty the Queen’s 70-year reign

At the start of June, the UK celebrates Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, marking her seventy years on the throne. In honour of the event, the spring bank holiday has grown by a day and been moved to synchronise with Trooping the Colour, which marks… Read More