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I remember one day, when I was supposed to be at school, hanging out at a friends house and watching an episode of Call My Bluff and there was a word that meant something like:

A path that is made (e.g. across a field) by people consistently walking along the same way

For example something like this (updated as some pointed out that my original picture was actually a footpath):

path

So, it is 15+ years later and I cannot for the life of me remember it so does anyone know what that word is?

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It's the trail we blaze. –  RegDwigнt Oct 31 '12 at 20:24
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It's usually called "the beaten path" — not track, as some would have it, though that would work. –  Robusto Oct 31 '12 at 20:26
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Note: Call My Bluff took single words from OED and provided two spoof and one true definition for a team to guess which was correct. The answer will be a single, obscure word (and I've no idea what!) –  Andrew Leach Oct 31 '12 at 21:39
    
Both the picture and the definition seem to be of -er- a path. Some paths are later paved. –  TimLymington Nov 1 '12 at 17:29
    
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_My_Bluff –  jk. Nov 2 '12 at 12:38

15 Answers 15

up vote 18 down vote accepted

You probably heard one of:

  1. Desire line: A path that pedestrians take informally, rather than taking a sidewalk or set route; e.g. a well-worn ribbon of dirt that one sees cutting across a patch of grass, or paths in the snow.
  2. Well-trodden path: Describing a route or path that is frequently used.
  3. Beaten track: A well-populated area or well-trodden path; any busy area.

For it to remain this tantalisingly elusive, I dare say that you heard option numero uno.

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I first discovered the term desire line in the book Universal Principles of Design which describes the term as 'Traces or use or wear that indicate preferred methods of interaction with an object or environment (also know as Desire Path)'. More informally I may refer to a desire path as a beaten track or well-trodden path. –  Ambo100 Nov 1 '12 at 17:44

In the trail maintenance community, it's called a "social trail" but that's only relevant when there's a maintained trail from which it branches.

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Some paths as shown are called cowpaths. For some discussion of cowpath and calf-path see Laure's answer to a previous question. I've heard deer trail in conversation much more frequently than cowpath, but deer trails usually are less obvious than the trail shown in the photo.

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Maybe it was too obvious? I'm wondering why no one has suggested footpath. –  J.R. Nov 1 '12 at 1:55
    
+1 You beat me to the cowpath! Lol! –  Kristina Lopez Nov 1 '12 at 3:29
    
I'm surprised – anyone want to venture a guess why cowpath seems to be so rare in dictionaries? (I'm not arguing with this answer; I just expected it to be more widespread.) –  J.R. Nov 1 '12 at 9:22
    
Yes, it's a footpath, but the point here is that it deviates (is a shortcut) from the formal path that the property owner wants you to use (which would also appear to be a paved footpath). Very common around schools and college campuses. –  Phil Perry Jun 26 at 16:23

Following Andrew Leach's comment, I did some strategic searching in the OED and came up with trackway:

A path beaten by the feet of passers, a track; also, an ancient British roadway, a ridgeway.

I don't know if that's obscure enough to be the word sought here, but it has the right definition.

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Pathway: trodden path seems too obvious.

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The question of UK rights of way is a legally complex matter, but I’d have thought the path shown in the picture was simply a public footpath. Other routes are variously known as public bridleways, restricted byways, byways open to all traffic, permissive paths, and a few others. Full descriptions can be seen on the Ramblers Association website.

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Thanks for the answer! I improved the question with a better picture of what I meant (you are right, that was probably more than likely a public footpath) –  kmp Nov 2 '12 at 11:32

Besides path, pathlet, pathway, and the many things related to ways, tracks, and trails by having those words in their names (such as runway, highway, race track), we still have many possibilities:

(All cited definitions from the OED.)

  • ambage: Circuits, windings, circuitous paths.
  • bridle-path, -road, -way: a path fit for the passage of a horse, but not of vehicles;
  • by-path, bypath: A side path, as opposed to the highroad; a private, retired, or unfrequented path.
  • chare: Local name for a narrow lane, alley, or wynd, in Newcastle and some neighbouring towns; also for some country lanes and field tracks, e.g. the three which converge at Chare ends, by the landing-place on Holy Island.
  • estrade: In the Brazilian rubber trade, a winding path or road connecting a series of trees. Also in Fr. form estrade.
  • fare: A road, track b. spec. The track of a hare or rabbit
  • feute: The traces or track (of an animal).
  • footing: A mark or impression left by the foot; a footprint, or footprints collectively; a trace, track, trail.
  • foot-path, footpath: A path for foot-passengers only.
  • footway: A way or path for foot-passengers only.
  • fostal: (pl. fostalx) The track of a hare. [apparently a contraction of footstall]
  • going: Means of access; a path, road; a passage, gangway (in a church).
  • gutter: A furrow or track made by running water.
  • hag-path: a path through a copse.
  • hollow-way: a way, road, or path, through a defile or cutting.
  • ladel: A little path, by-path.
  • land-way: A way or path over land. A road giving access to land.
  • meanders: pl. Crooked or winding paths (of a maze); labyrinthine passages; windings or convolutions (of a vein, fissure, line, etc.).
  • pad: A path, track; the road, the way.
  • piste: The beaten track of a horse or other animal; the track of a race-course or training-ground. Also in extended use.
  • rack: A (narrow) path or track.
  • rake: A way, path; esp. a rough path over a hill, a narrow path up a clef.
  • ride-way: A bridle-path.
  • roddin, rodding: a path: see sheep-rodding.
  • rut: A (deep) furrow or track made in the ground, esp. in a soft road, by the passage of a wheeled vehicle or vehicles.
  • sithe: A going, journey, path, way.
  • serpentine: A winding path or line.
  • slot: The track or trail of an animal, esp. a deer, as shown by the marks of the foot; sometimes misapplied to the scent of an animal; hence generally, track, trace, or trail.
  • stight: a path.
  • sty: A path or narrow way.
  • switchback: Applied to a railway consisting of a series of steep alternate ascents and descents, on which the train or car runs partly or who lly by the force of gravity, the momentum of each descent carrying it up the succeeding ascent; esp. to such a railway constructed for amusement at a pleasure-resort. Hence transf. of a road having steep alternate ascents and descents. sb. A switchback railway (in either sense); also tran sf. and fig.; applied in N. Amer. to a tight bend on an ascending road or trail.
  • terrie, terry: A trodden path, sometimes a balk or ridge of earth separating fields or allotments.
  • trace: The way or path which anything takes; course, road.
  • trench: A path or track cut through a wood or forest; an alley; a hollow walk. A long and narrow hollow cut out of the ground, a cutting; a ditch, fosse; a deep furrow.
  • traverse: A passage by which one may traverse or cross; a way, pass; a crossing.
  • twitten: A narrow path or passage between two walls or hedges.
  • upgang: An ascent, an upward path or way.

And then there is the adjective:

  • wilsome: Chiefly of a way or path: Leading astray as through wild and desolate regions; hence, desert, lonely and wild; dreary.

Some of those are now rare or obsolete, or restricted to certain dialects or locales.

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this is the only answer with obscure enough words for "Call my Bluff" imho –  jk. Nov 1 '12 at 14:49
    
@jk. Off the top of my head, the rarer candidates include: ambage, chare, estrade, feute, fostal, ladel, rack, rake, roddin, rodding, sithe, stight, sty, terrie, terry, twitten, upgang. –  tchrist Nov 1 '12 at 15:23
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Words on this list that I have EVER heard used as words for a path: bridle path, footpath. A couple of others I've heard with quite different definitions. I've heard "serpentine" as an adjective for something winding and twisting, which would include "serpentine path", but also, e.g., "serpentine belt" for a rubber belt in a car that twists around multiple pulleys. Oh, and you define "switchback" in terms of railroads, yes, I've heard that usage, but nothing to do with paths that people or animals would walk on. –  Jay Nov 2 '12 at 13:58
    
@Jay Believe me, we have lots of switchback trails around here for hikers, or perhaps more properly put, hiking trails that include switchbacks. That is why the OED says “applied in N. Amer. to a tight bend on an ascending road or trail.” Here to switchback is even a verb. –  tchrist Nov 2 '12 at 14:06
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Well, it's a new term for me. I was a pretty avid hiker as a kid, 40 years ago, and I don't recall ever hearing the term applied to hiking trails. Maybe I'm just forgetting, maybe it's new, maybe it's peculiar to some parts of the country (I grew up in New York, most of my hiking was in New England), etc etc. I'm not saying you're wrong, I was just trying to say that I question how many of the words on the list are actually in common use. –  Jay Nov 2 '12 at 20:38

They are called desire paths (also desire lines, social trails, goat tracks, bootleg trails, or intention lines).

The philosopher Gaston Bachelard called them les chemins du désir (pathways of desire), so that's one possible origin of the term.

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Is this a UK term? I've never heard this in the US. If someone hear talked about a "desire path", my first thought would be that it was a place where teenagers go to make out. –  Jay Nov 2 '12 at 14:00

From Home Ground:

A close look at any city park or green will typically reveal footpaths that break away from paved walks, trails that countless pedestrians have worn into the grass. Such a trail is a desire path: the route people have chosen to take across an open place, marking a human pattern on a landscape. "A 'desire path' is what hikers or walkers have worn thin through finding a better way, or a shortcut, to a desired place," writes Mary Morris in Acts of God. Today, many planning agencies make use of such patterns when designing a public space. They first clear the land and then, after a few weeks or months, examine the ground for evidence of a human trail before choosing where to lay the path. – Lan Samantha Chang

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I've been thinking of exactly the same thing recently. The word that keeps coming into my mind is a 'weird' or a 'weirdway'

I believe in the UK councils used this to describe these people made paths. I can't find any evidence of this term being correct though (try googling that term!)- its just what my brain thinks it was. Maybe it will spark something in your own recollection though?

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social path - I came across the term when editing trail guides for National Parks and National Forests. Social paths appear near switchbacks - some people are impatient with a gradual gain. It's also used by some landscape designers.

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When I took horticulture, my professor called this a desire line.

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Desire Path:

A path created by natural means, simply because it is the “shortest or most easily navigated” way.

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There is a single word for "trodden pathway" in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English - "drung"

drung n. also drang, drong, drang.' A narrow lane or passage between houses, fenced gardens, etc. 1972 MURRAY 29 There are 'drungs' (lanes) and roads shooting off in all directions from the main artery. 1983 Daily News 14 June, p. 14 The once quiet drung [Maunder's Lane], located off Torbay Road at the top of Coaker's Hill [is to undergo major upgrading]. 1988 GOSSE 4 This wharf was located in a small cove at the end of a fairly wide drung, known as Dock Lane.

I don't think this is the word you want though! I think that it's an architectural or legal term (somewhat like "curtilage") that you're looking for, but unfortunately I can't remember it either. I too remember hearing it years ago in the UK (perhaps on Call My Bluff) and also it was used by an architect friend.

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One not yet mentioned is the "trampled path". In studying Biology, we had to assess footfall by looking at square-metre quadrants of grassed areas. Areas with highly-trampled regions were deemed "well-walked" or, as mentioned before, cowpaths, deerpaths or, quite simply, the beaten path.

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