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From Middle English wildernesse, wyldernys, of uncertain formation. Compare Middle Dutch wildernisse (wilderness), Middle Low German wildernisse (wilderness), also of obscure formation. Perhaps from Middle English wilderne (wilderness) +‎ -ness; or from unattested Old English *wilddēornes; or from Old English wilddēoren (wild, savage) (> Middle English wildern) + -nes (-ness).

Compare Saterland Frisian Wüüldernis (wilderness), West Frisian wyldernis (wilderness), Dutch wildernis (wilderness), German Low German Wildernis (wilderness), German Wildernis and Wildnis (wilderness), Danish vildnis (wilderness). Compare also Old English wilder, wildor (wild beast).


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


wilderness (countable and uncountable, plural wildernesses)

  1. (countable, uncountable) An unsettled and uncultivated tract of land left in its natural state; a barren land; a wild or waste.
  2. (countable, uncountable) A place that is uncared for, and therefore devoted to disorder or wildness.
  3. (uncountable) Wild or unrefined state; wildness.
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book IX”, in Paradise Lost. A Poem Written in Ten Books, London: Printed [by Samuel Simmons], and are to be sold by Peter Parker [] [a]nd by Robert Boulter [] [a]nd Matthias Walker, [], OCLC 228722708; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: The Text Exactly Reproduced from the First Edition of 1667: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, OCLC 230729554:
      These paths and bowers doubt not but our joint hands / Will keep from wilderness with ease, []
  4. (countable) A bewildering flock or throng.
  5. (countable) 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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