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I recall hearing the phrase 'tractless wilderness' but no dictionaries has 'tractless'. Up until now, I believed the meaning to be 'expansive'.

There is a possibility that I'm confusing it with 'trackless', but I don't see how this would convey the same meaning as 'trackless' simply means without tracks.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

This is an eggcorn for the much more common idiom trackless wilderness.

Like all the best eggcorns, though, it’s a very plausible reinterpretation, as Martin Beckett’s answer describes, since tracts can mean divisions of land, esp. into properties, which (like tracks) are something a wilderness would typically lack.

The reinterpretation seems to have arise quite often, as Google Books and ngrams show, going back at least to the early eighteenth century; for instance:

The difficulty of placing these correctly in a tractless wilderness, which has never been accurately measured, will at once plead both his excuse and mine.

from an 1811 bible commentary mapping the travels of the Israelites.

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"She's beautiful, she's rich, she's got huge... tracts of land." –  Malvolio May 8 '11 at 0:57
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Though 'tractless' could theoretically be a word, I am sure the phrase is 'trackless wilderness', meaning somewhere so wild there aren't even any paths.

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I suggest you may have heard “trackless wilderness”. In that case, in simply means “with no paths or tracks”.

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The phrase is tractless, 'tract' is a marked out parcel of land, as in a lot.
So tractless is unplanned, unclaimed wilderness.

Any British English speaker will be familiar with "huge great tracts of land - good pig country"

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