See more synonyms for wilderness on Thesaurus.com
  1. a wild and uncultivated region, as of forest or desert, uninhabited or inhabited only by wild animals; a tract of wasteland.
  2. a tract of land officially designated as such and protected by the U.S. government.
  3. any desolate tract, as of open sea.
  4. a part of a garden set apart for plants growing with unchecked luxuriance.
  5. a bewildering mass or collection.

Origin of wilderness

1150–1200; Middle English; Old English *wil(d)dēornes, equivalent to either wil(d)dēor wild beast (see wild, deer) + -nes -ness, or wilddēoren wild, savage (wilddēor + -en -en2) + (-n)es -ness; probably reinforced by Middle English wildernes, genitive of wildern wilderness (noun use of Old English wilddēoren), in phrases like wildernes land land of wilderness

Synonym study

1. See desert1.


  1. a wooded area in NE Virginia: several battles fought here in 1864 between armies of Grant and Lee.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for wilderness

Contemporary Examples of wilderness

Historical Examples of wilderness

  • "You have wandered long in the wilderness," continued the minister.

  • Fretted by the pain, he plunged into the wilderness to hide like a wounded deer.

  • And, in spite of these disturbances, business goes on briskly in the market of the wilderness.

    Old News

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • And Albany was then almost as much in the wilderness as Caughnawaga.

    In the Valley

    Harold Frederic

  • I thought that in the wilderness one heard always the night-yelping of the wolves.

    In the Valley

    Harold Frederic

British Dictionary definitions for wilderness


  1. a wild, uninhabited, and uncultivated region
  2. any desolate tract or area
  3. a confused mass or collection
  4. a voice in the wilderness or a voice crying in the wilderness a person, group, etc, making a suggestion or plea that is ignored
  5. in the wilderness no longer having influence, recognition, or publicity

Word Origin for wilderness

Old English wildēornes, from wildēor wild beast (from wild + dēor beast, deer) + -ness; related to Middle Dutch wildernisse, German Wildernis


  1. the Wilderness the barren regions to the south and east of Palestine, esp those in which the Israelites wandered before entering the Promised Land and in which Christ fasted for 40 days and nights
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for wilderness

c.1200, from Old English wildeoren "wild, savage," from wildern (adj.) "wild, savage" (from wilde "wild;" see wild (adj.) + deor "animal;" see deer) + -ness. Cf. Dutch wildernis, German Wildernis, though the usual form is Wildnis.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper