fallow

1 of 4

adjective (1)

fal·​low ˈfa-(ˌ)lō How to pronounce fallow (audio)
: of a light yellowish-brown color
a fallow greyhound

fallow

2 of 4

noun

1
: usually cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle during the growing season
2
obsolete : plowed land
3
: the state or period of being fallow
Summer fallow is effective for destroying weeds.
4
: the tilling of land without sowing it for a season

fallow

3 of 4

verb

fallowed; fallowing; fallows

transitive verb

: to plow, harrow, and break up (land) without seeding to destroy weeds and conserve soil moisture

fallow

4 of 4

adjective (2)

1
: left untilled or unsown after plowing
2
: dormant, inactive
used especially in the phrase to lie fallow
at this very moment there are probably important inventions lying fallowHarper's
fallowness noun

Examples of fallow in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
As for the large acreages now growing alfalfa, Babbitt noted that the crop generates relatively low returns and is often the first one taken out of production when farmers agree to temporarily fallow fields. Tribune News Service, The Mercury News, 4 Apr. 2024 But the industry began declining in the second half of the 1900s as production costs were higher than abroad, and much of that land became fallow fields covered in invasive plants, particularly tall, flammable grasses. Jean Lee, NBC news, 3 Feb. 2024 The land includes a variety of habitats including a wet grassland, constructed ponds and a fallow agricultural field. Miriam Marini, Detroit Free Press, 23 Feb. 2024 The land has been fallow since the golf course closed two decades ago. George Avalos, The Mercury News, 21 Feb. 2024 To reach this goal, a chunk of around 4% of farmland has to remain fallow. Reuters, NBC News, 29 Jan. 2024 Villagers dressed as cranes, roosters and mythical lions pose for portraits standing amid crops or in fallow farmland. Oscar Holland, CNN, 10 Feb. 2024 Studies show that restoring native forests and active agriculture in the dry, fallow lands around fire-prone communities can not only create green buffer zones but literally help bring back the rain. Dawn Lippert, Fortune, 16 Jan. 2024 Those who remained on Shelter Island to look for scallops were the hard core, the romantics and the purists, for whom a fallow winter turns the search for scallops into something like a sacramental rite. Christopher Maag, New York Times, 14 Jan. 2024
Verb
Growers across the state, particularly in the Central Valley, reached a deal with the state to sharply restrict their water use and fallow their fields. Coral Davenport, New York Times, 29 Dec. 2023 Thirsty cities increasingly look to farmers willing to fallow their fields and redirect water to urban centers. Joshua Partlow, Brady Dennis and Isaac Stanley-Becker, The Washington Post, Anchorage Daily News, 4 June 2023 On one hand are concerned farmers, who say water cuts have forced many of them to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres and could drive them out of business. Kellie Hwang, San Francisco Chronicle, 31 Aug. 2021 As farmers fallow more land in California’s Central Valley — due to drought and groundwater regulations — more dust could be kicked up, polluting low-income communities of color that already suffer from some of the nation’s worst air quality. Sammy Rothstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 15 Sep. 2022 Noah Hiscox, a Coolidge farmer for 44 years, is among the growers who expect to fallow much of their land. Brandon Loomis, The Arizona Republic, 4 Jan. 2022 Hauter, who is also a Gila River tribal member, said the farm would be asked to fallow up to 4,000 acres. Debra Utacia Krol, The Arizona Republic, 13 Dec. 2021 Those users plan to fallow much of their land next year, and are also using state money to drill new wells to tap groundwater. Brandon Loomis, The Arizona Republic, 16 Dec. 2021 The first-term Democratic governor must balance the concerns of farmers, who say water cuts have forced many of them to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres and could drive them out of business, against profound environmental threats posed by overuse of the state’s dwindling water supply. Dustin Gardiner, San Francisco Chronicle, 31 Aug. 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'fallow.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective (1)

Middle English falwe, falew, falow "sallow, dusky, faded, yellow tending toward red or brown (of a horse)," going back to Old English fealu "yellow tending toward red, brown or gray (though in some contexts less clear)," going back to Germanic *falwa- (whence also Old Saxon falu "pale, dun, yellowish," Old High German falo "yellowish, tending toward red, brown, or gold," Old Icelandic fǫlr "pale"), going back to dialectal Indo-European *pol-u̯o-, whence also Old Church Slavic plavŭ "golden (of a ripe field of grain)," Russian polóvyj, polovój "pale yellow" (of horses or dogs), Polish pŀowy "fair, flaxen," Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian plâv "blue, light-colored (of hair), blond," Lithuanian pal͂vas "pale, pale yellow," Latvian pal͂ss; perhaps from the same base, with varying ablaut and suffixation: Latin pall- in pallēre "to be pale or bloodless, have a pale color," pallidus "pale, colorless," pallor "paleness of complexion, loss of color" (< *palu̯o-?); Latin pullus "drab-colored, dingy, somber" (< *polu̯o- or *pl̥u̯o-?); Greek pellós "dark-colored, dusky" (< *peli̯ós?), peliós "discolored from a bruise, livid," poliós "pale gray (as of human hair), grizzled" (< *poliu̯os?; compared with Mycenaean po-ri-wa, but this may be a different word); Armenian alik' "gray hair, waves" (< *pl̥-i̯eh2?); Old Irish líath "gray (of the hair, beard), gray-haired," Welsh llwyd "gray, pale, brown, turbid" (< *plei̯-to-?), Sanskrit paruṣá- "gray, gray-brown, dirty," palitá- "gray, gray-haired with age"

Note: The semantic range of Old English fealu has long been a point of discussion, as the word is applied to entities (as the waves of the sea, faded flowers and the feet of a phoenix), notably in poetry, that cannot be easily labeled with a single color name in Modern English. It has been claimed that this and some other Old English color words (as well as their Germanic cognates) may describe degrees of brightness more than hue; for a critical discussion of the earlier literature see C.P. Biggam, "The ambiguity of brightness (with special reference to Old English) and a new model for color description in semantics," Robert E. MacLaury et al., editors, Anthropology of Colors, Benjamins, 2007, pp. 171-88. The modern word fallow is now rare outside of the collocation fallow deer. — Outside of the coherent Germanic and Balto-Slavic set exemplified by fallow, the Indo-European comparative data offer a good deal of semantic and formal diversity. As A. Nussbaum has pointed out ("The 'Saussure Effect' in Latin and Italic," A. Lubotsky, editor, Sound Law and Analogy, Rodopi, 1997, pp. 190-91), the words outside of Latin betray an original i-stem *pel-ei̯- and have the meaning "gray, lacking brightness." The Latin set exemplified by pallidus has a problematic a; a reconstruction *palu̯o- would allow Latin to be grouped with Germanic and Balto-Slavic, but the source of such a form is unclear.

Noun

Middle English falwe, falow, falowe "arable land, tilled or untilled," going back to Old English fealh, felg "arable land," going back to West Germanic *falgō- or *falgjō- or *falgjōn- (whence also Old Frisian fallach, flach "arable land," Middle Dutch valge, Old High German felga), going back to dialectal Indo-European *polḱ-eh2, whence also Gaulish olca (used by Gregory of Tours [Late Latin]) "arable land," Russian polosá "stripe, strip, zone" (Old Russian, "narrow strip of land"), Slovene plása "strip, strip of cultivated land," Polish płosa "strip of land, field"

Note: The Old English word is attested only as a gloss of the Latin word occa, and all occurrences of it appear to originate in a set of glosses to the tract De laude virginitatis, written by the seventh century Anglo-Saxon monk Aldhelm. Early on these glosses created scholarly confusion, as the usual meaning of the word occa in Medieval Latin was "harrow," which did not match the later history of the Old English word. A way out of this was shown by Johannes Hoops, who suggested that occa is more likely a variant of the Gaulish word olca "arable land" ("Felge und Falge: eine glossographische Untersuchungen zum Altertumskunde," Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, Band 27 [1912], pp. 313-24). The etymon *polḱ-eh2 has been taken as a nominal derivative of a verb *pelḱ- "turn, bend" (hence Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch; Lloyd, Lühr et al., Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Althochdeutschen), alluding to the turning over of the soil in plowing. The word would hence be related to the etymon of felly entry 1, alleged to derive from the same verb.

Verb

Middle English falwen "to till, let lie fallow," going back to Old English fealgian, derivative of fealh, felg "arable land" — more at fallow entry 1

Note: As suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, the Middle English variants felyen, felowen and English dialect felly, would suggest the existence of a Class I weak verb *fielgan, which would seem to match Old High German felgen with the same sense.

Adjective (2)

Middle English falwe, falewe, adjective derivative of falwe fallow entry 2

First Known Use

Adjective (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Verb

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

Adjective (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of fallow was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near fallow

Cite this Entry

“Fallow.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fallow. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

fallow

1 of 3 noun
fal·​low ˈfal-ō How to pronounce fallow (audio)
1
: land for crops allowed to lie idle during the growing season
2
: the tilling of land without sowing it for a season

fallow

2 of 3 verb
: to till (land) without seeding

fallow

3 of 3 adjective
1
: left untilled or unsown
2

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