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Borrowed from Medieval Latin sylvanus, possibly via Middle French sylvain, from Latin Silvānus (Roman god of the woods), from silva (forest), from Proto-Indo-European *sel-, *swel- (beam, board, frame, threshold). The ⟨y⟩ in sylvanus and its descendants is due to influence from Ancient Greek ῡ̔́λη (hū́lē, wood, matter), transliterated in the Latin style as hyle.



sylvan (comparative more sylvan, superlative most sylvan)

  1. Pertaining to the forest, or woodlands.
    • 1806, Virgil; John Dryden, transl., “Æneis, Book I”, in The Works of Virgil, Translated into English Verse [...] A New Edition; with Remarks on the “Corrections” of Dr. [John] Carey, volume II, new edition, London: Printed for J. Johnson [et al.], OCLC 315491820, lines 231–234:
      Broke by the jutting land, on either side, / In double streams the briny waters glide, / Betwixt two rows of rocks: a silvan scene / Appears above, and groves for ever green: []
    • 1826, [Walter Scott], chapter III, in Woodstock; Or, The Cavalier. A Tale of the Year Sixteen Hundred and Fifty-one. [...] In Three Volumes, volume I, Edinburgh: Printed [by James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, OCLC 991895633, pages 87–88:
      A little cabinet stood beside, with some of its shuttles and drawers open, displaying hawks-bells, dog-whistles, instruments for trimming a falcon's feathers, bridle-bits of various constructions, and other trifles connected with sylvan sport.
    • 1850, Thomas De Quincey, “Shakspeare”, in Biographical Essays, Boston, Mass.: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, OCLC 2720740, page 4:
      [T]he traditional memory of a rural and a sylvan region, such as Warwickshire at that time was, is usually exact as well as tenacious; and, with respect to [William] Shakespeare in particular, we may presume it to have been full and circumstantial through the generation succeeding to his own, not only from the curiosity, and perhaps something of a scandalous interest, which would pursue the motions of one living so large a part of his life at a distance from his wife, but also from the final reverence and honor which would settle upon the memory of a poet so preëminently successful; []
    • 1853 July, [Benson John Lossing], “Sketches on the Upper Mississippi”, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, volume VII, number XXXVIII, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, publishers, 329 & 331 Pearl Street, Franklin Square, OCLC 924884025, page 182, column 2:
      We were now within the boundaries of Minnesota, and this prairie was yet the habitation of Wapasha (Red Leaf) and his Sioux band. I never beheld a more charming silvan picture than this prairie presented; []
    • 1886, Francis George Heath, “Sylvan Nomenclature”, in Sylvan Winter, London: Kegan Paul Trench, & Co., 1, Paternoster Square, OCLC 31150023, page 320:
      The particular trees may have been cut down long ago and forgotten; but the name survives to perpetuate its sylvan history. There may be no more a wood of Limes at Lyndhurst, there may be no Oaks at Oakville, Elms at Elmley, or Ashes at Ashton; but still the names will always suggest—at least—a probability of sylvan origin.
    • 2002, Jeffrey K. Wilson, “Introduction”, in The German Forest: Nature, Identity, and the Contestation of a National Symbol, 1871–1914 (German and European Studies), Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, ↑ISBN, page 1; republished Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 2012, ↑ISBN, page 3:
      Over the course of the nineteenth century, an entity known as the 'German forest' arose out of Central Europe's sylvan diversity.
  2. Residing in a forest or wood.
    • 1790, Cálidás [i.e., Kālidāsa]; [William Jones, transl.], Sacontalá; or, The Fatal Ring: An Indian Drama. By Cálidás. Translated from the Original Sanscrit and Prácrit, London: Printed for Edwards, Pall Mall; by J. Cooper, No. 31, Bow Street, Covent Garden, with his new-invented ink, OCLC 560416527, Act IV, page 46:
      Now, my Sacontalá, you are becomingly decorated: put on this lower veſt, the gift of ſylvan goddeſſes.
  3. Wooded, or covered in forest.
    • 2011, Pat[ricia J.] Dillon; Lynne [Smith] Diebel, “Enter, Northwoods: Rhinelander Area”, in Green Travel Guide to Northern Wisconsin: Environmentally and Socially Responsible Travel, Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, ↑ISBN, page 134:
      Nicolet Area Technical College, a Rhinelander green centerpiece, gets high marks not just for its management of more than two hundred acres of sylvan land and its thousand feet of frontage along the pristine shores of Lake Julia, but for being Wisconsin's college campus leader in renewable energy use.

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sylvan (plural sylvans)

  1. One who resides in the woods.
    • 1826, [Horace Smith], chapter III, in Brambletye House; or, Cavaliers and Roundheads. A Novel. [...] In Three Volumes, volume II, Boston, Mass.: Wells and Lilly—State Street, OCLC 5824610, pages 80–81:
      [H]e hurried to a masquerade-warehouse in Westminster, where he selected the garb of a sylvan, or a man of the woods, together with a guitar, which he entrusted to a porter, bidding him accompany then to St. James's Park. / "But what connexion is there between a sylvan and a French song accompanied by the guitar?" asked Jocelyn, as they paced rapidly along. / "None whatever," replied his companion, "and, therefore, the better for our purpose. The King has long lost taste for that which is appropriate: to be pleased he must be surprised, and this can only be effected by some absurdity; the more preposterous the more likely to succeed."
  2. A fabled deity of the wood; a faun, a satyr.
    • 1610, Saint Augustine; Io[annes] Lod[ovicus] Vives [i.e., Juan Luis Vives]; J[ohn] H[ealey], transl., “Whether It be Credible that the Angels being of an Incorporeall Nature, should Lust after the Women of the Earth, and Marrying Them, Beget Gyants of Them. Chap. 23.”, in St. Avgvstine, of the Citie of God: With the Learned Comments of Io. Lod. Vives. Englished by J. H., [London]: Printed by George Eld, OCLC 677121045, book XV, page 561:
      And ſeeing it is ſo generall a report, and ſo many auerre it eyther from their owne triall or from others, that are of indubitable honeſtie and credite, that the Syluanes and Fawnes, commonly called Incubi, haue often iniured women, deſiring and acting carnally with them: []
    • 1837, John Smith, “The Works of Nicholas Poussin”, in A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters; in which is Included a Short Biographical Notice of the Artists, with a Copious Discussion of Their Principal Pictures; a Statement of the Prices at which such Pictures have been Sold at Public Sales on the Continent and in England; a Reference to the Galleries and Private Collections, in which a Large Portion are at Present; and the Names of the Artists by whom They have been Engraved: To which is Added, a Brief Notice of the Scholars & Imitators of the Great Masters of the above Schools, 8th part, London: Published by Smith & Son, 137, New Bond Street, OCLC 719391864, page 113:
      214. A Revel and Sacrifice to Pan. The frequent repetition of these subjects shows how deeply the artist's mind was imbued with the love of sylvan rites and ceremonies, characteristic of the fabled golden age, when "In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan." [] [N]ear to her are a nymph and a faun sitting together; the attention of the former is at the moment attracted by a sylvan, who is dragging a goat by the leg; []
    • 1847, Alexander Pope, “Vertuminus and Pomona. From the Fourteenth Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.”, in The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, new edition, London: H[enry] G[eorge] Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, lines 19–26, pages 277–278:
      Her private orchards, walled on every side, / To lawless sylvans all access denied. / How oft the satyrs and the wanton fawns, / Who haunt the forests, or frequent the lawns, / The god whose ensign scares the birds of prey, / And old Silenus, youthful in decay, / Employed their wiles and unavailing care / To pass the fences, and surprise the fair!
    • 1976, Jane Krier, The English Masque: Vanished Court Drama (unpublished M.A. dissertation), Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin, OCLC 608924810, page 64:
      The sylvans who guarded the palace were bearded buffoons, lazy and stupid but fierce. Without the help of the Silenus, prefect of the satyrs, the cocky satyrs may have fought with the sylvans.