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From Middle English wildernesse, wyldernys, of uncertain formation. Perhaps from Middle English wildern (wilderness) +‎ -ness; or from unattested Old English *wilddēornes; or from Old English wilddēoren (wild, savage) + -nes (-ness).

Compare Middle Dutch wildernisse ("wilderness"; > modern Dutch wildernis), German Wildnis (wilderness). Compare also Old English wilder, wildor (wild beast).


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈwɪl.də.nɪs/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈwɪl.dəɹ.nəs/
  • (file)


wilderness (plural wildernesses)

  1. (countable and uncountable) An unsettled and uncultivated tract of land left in its natural state; an untrodden land.
    • Bible, Job 24.5:
      The wilderness yieldeth food for them and for their children.
  2. A part of a garden devoted to wild growth.
  3. Wild or uncultivated state.
  4. (countable) A bewildering flock, throng, or troop.
    • 1596-97, William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene i[1]:
      TUBAL: One of them showed me a ring that he had of your daughter for a monkey.
      SHYLOCK: Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.
  5. A situation that is bewildering, or that which makes one feel awkward.
    • 2015, Dermot McEvoy, Irish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ireland:
      After the firm establishment of the Irish Free State, Churchill would continue to hold office until the depression. Then, he found himself in the political wilderness. But, unlike Lloyd George, he would not find himself tripping to Berchtesgaden to prostrate himself before Adolf Hitler in admiration. Perhaps he had learned something from Michael Collins—never bend the knee to the tyrant.

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