Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Apr 27, 2017 9:57 pm

<2017 “There are legitimate reasons to run deficits, including lifting the economy in tough times, strengthening the military against proven threats and building or rebuilding public infrastructure. Borrowing trillions of dollars to provide a huge windfall for people at the top is not one of those reasons.”–New York Times, 27 April>
The origin of the meaning of the word windfall seems ambiguous. It was something blown down by the wind – sounds like something nasty (a tree, a house) – but turns out it is overwhelmingly a good thing, although in economics, for example, there is the term windfall loss, which is not a good thing.

WINDFALL (ante1592)


1) An unexpected gain, piece of good fortune, or the like.

2) Something blown down by the wind, as fruit. [[Seems like this could be good or bad: a) good if it saves picking. b) bad if it is prior to picking time and fruit rots on the ground.]]


Accruing in unexpectedly large amounts: windfall profits.

(Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary)

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1504 “They which fall before the time of gathering, as wind-falles.”—Fruiterers Secrets, by N.F., page 12> [bad thing if they rot on the ground]

<1661 “The wind begins to bluster among the Apples,..and the wind-falls are gathered to fill the Pies for the houshold.”––Twelve Moneths by M. Stevenson, page 42> [[good thing]]

<1801 “He . . . kept little windfalls, that came to him by the negligence of customers—tooth-pick cases, loose silver”—Forester in Moral Talesby M. Edgeworth, I. page 190>

<1936 “The change in the value of the equipment, due to unforeseen changes in market values, exceptional obsolescence or destruction . . . may be called the windfall loss.”—General Theory of Employment by J. M. Keynes, II. vi. page 57>

<1977 “The shift to free market pricing would give the oil companies windfall profits.”—N.Y. Review of Books, 26 May, page 31/4>

<1996 “Republicans such as presidential candidate Steve Forbes and House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas - would impose ‘a windfall loss’ on millions of American homeowners, . . .”—Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), 17 February>

<2017 “. . . is the fall in wind power tariffs sustainable or driven purely by the need to compete with solar power players, who are reaping the windfall of falling solar panel prices?”—Business Today, 7 May>

Ken Greenwald, April 27, 2017

Re: windfall

Post by Phil White » Mon May 01, 2017 7:34 pm

Hi Ken,

We always had "windfall apples" in our garden when I was a kid. They were the ones I was allowed to eat. The rest got polished up and put in the fruit bowl for visitors :(

The term "windfall" in the field of politics and economics has been writ large in the UK for a good few years now, particularly in the phrase "windfall tax".
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: windfall

Post by tony h » Tue May 02, 2017 9:54 am

I agree with Phil.

There are some nuances to the use of the phrase.

Fruit on a tree is the property of the landowner.
Fallen fruit, over the garden wall, was fair game, but usually rotten.
But, after some strong wind, good fruit would be blown off the tree in some quantity - but may be damaged.

So a windfall has to me the following characteristics:
1. it is a bounty that comes unexpectedly to you.
2. it can be at someone else's expenses (the farmer lost the apples you gained)
3. it is possibly a one off event, at least it is not reliably predictable.
4. it is only available for a short period of time.

- a windfall tax would mean a tax on unexpected profits eg from unpredicted exchange rate movements.
- "I had a bit of a windfall" might be an unexpected inheritance or a horse that came in on long odds.
Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: windfall

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed May 10, 2017 5:27 pm

Have often heard it mistakenly pronounced as winfall. For me the essential ingredient of a windfall is its unexpected nature.

WoZ who has wind and falls
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: windfall

Post by trolley » Wed May 10, 2017 8:25 pm

Here, in the land of big trees (and big winds), windfalls are not always good or unexpected. I spend a fair bit of time, each spring, cleaning up windfalls on my property after the winter storms. These trees and branches are also commonly known as "blow-downs".

Re: windfall

Post by BonnieL » Thu May 11, 2017 2:44 am

trolley wrote:Here, in the land of big trees (and big winds), windfalls are not always good or unexpected. I spend a fair bit of time, each spring, cleaning up windfalls on my property after the winter storms. These trees and branches are also commonly known as "blow-downs".
We get the same kind of windfalls; mostly pine cones & branches with the occasional tree. When we last walked in the woods looking for downed trees, I found a deer skull with antlers. It's my first in the many years we've lived here. Could I call that a wind fall? :)

Re: windfall

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu May 11, 2017 5:57 pm

I would call that bucking the historic odds.

Re: windfall

Post by JosephPa » Tue May 30, 2017 5:53 pm

tony h: nice work, especially "Accruing in large amounts".
I made a sale in Southern California that had an unexpectedly fast and easy acceptance.
This earned me $1.12 million and one that I was cheated out of, Hurt but funny in retrospect.

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