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The context is a path being eroded with use, except it's more like the path is being crafted with love by use. Are there any better words or phrases to fit this use?

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    Do you mean that the path is being created as people keep walking along it?
    – alphabet
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 1:52
  • 1
    I think "eroded" does not really fit the description of a well-trodden path. When it starts to erode it is over-used and becomes less usable, which is not what I understand you mean ("crafted with love"). The latter phrase makes me wonder whether the path is but an example and you are looking for a word (like my suggestion honed below) that can be used for other things, like tools. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 13:31
  • This is contentious, but English is highly amenable to portmanteaus and you could propose a word "treadworn".
    – AdamO
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 16:05
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    I think you've practically answered your own question with your definition - the path [has been] crafted [by use]. But a slightly better verb might be ...steps sculpted by time using the water as its chisel and wind as its hammer... or ...steps sculpted by generations of feet. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 17:10
  • I think English doesn't recognise a positive opposite of 'eroded' but if in a case like this it did, would it not be something like 'worn into shape…'? Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 20:10

17 Answers 17

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timeworn (adj.)

That has been practised or adhered to for a long time; old, ancient.

1840 It is not only a time-worn custom with the Spaniards and Portuguese, but is a frequent practice in parts of our own southern states.
Around World vol. I. v. 61

1954 The bearded Arabs in their traditional clothes, the more rustical among them as openly delighted as children with his time-worn tricks.
J. Huxley, From Antique Land viii. 135

2006 The more graceful and timeworn tradition of the Southern plantation house. E. Coffman, Alone in Dark v. 39
[OED]

Something that is timeworn is old or has been used a lot over a long period of time.

Even in the dim light the equipment looked old and timeworn.
Collins


Becoming a person of psychological and spiritual substance is a result of the committed pursuit of self-knowledge. This quest marks the timeworn path outlined by many of the great philosophers and religious figures of the past and present.
Bud Harris; Sacred Selfishness (2011)

He sniffs out something of a game trail, a timeworn Shoshone path, leading straight up from the springs. He and Boyer angle for the ridge, trotting like a pair of wild goats.
David Page; Explorer's Guide Yosemite & the Southern Sierra Nevada (2017)

The road leading to San Vicente appeared timeworn, with many dilapidated and abandoned houses
Bernadette Soto; My Journey Off the Beaten Path (2017)

This time, an alternate loop leads up a low hill on a timeworn farm road.
Johnny Molloy; Hiking through History—New England (2015)

Nánapwala led him along the sacred, timeworn path to the cornfields.
Nancy Woodbridge; Daniel's Return (2012)

I walked over and read the lines from its timeworn pages:
Richard Morgan; Autumn Wisdom (2007)

Note, however, that any positive connotation is absent in those contexts where timeworn means hackneyed.

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  • As all your examples show, timeworn is almost always used metaphorically, not literally as in a path. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 17:12
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    @FumbleFingers I disagree. I've added examples with the literal meaning quickly found with Google Books.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 18:07
  • Well, I still think that "timeworn" is usually metaphorical these days - but obviously it does occur as a literal usage. I must admit I downvoted your answer purely because all the examples were metaphorical, but I've reversed that now. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 18:28
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You could start with well-trodden. Collins gives us the definition

ADJECTIVE [usually ADJECTIVE noun]

A well-trodden path is used regularly by a large number of people, and therefore looks worn and is easy to see.

He made his way along a well-trodden path towards the shed.

The same source, and other dictionaries, also give figurative usages.

But it's something of a cliche (you might even say that the expression well-trodden path is too well-trodden itself). It does, though, have nice resonances, well is a rather positive adverb.

If inclined to something a bit less well-trodden, why not grab the adverbs from @PaulTanenbaum's answer, either lovingly-trodden or affectionately-trodden?

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In the most common usage, paths are worn. You might want something like affectionately or lovingly worn.

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  • Hmm, I agree that paths may be worn but surely only scarves or other clothing items might be lovingly worn or affectionately worn? Could one write There is a lovingly worn path to the top of the hill without some poetic licence? Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 5:56
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    Something like "nicely worn-in" might do. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 15:53
  • Although the adverb changes the tone in these a lot. Well-worn and worn-away have different sentiment.
    – davolfman
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 21:17
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I'm surprised nobody has said well-worn.

There is also battle-tested but that probably wouldn't be used in this scenario unless the path were somehow in competition with other paths.

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Not for a path, but for a skill or tool which becomes smoother and more usable the more it is used, honed would fit.

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    Honing does not occur through use, and so doesn't fit the bill to me. A lawn mower blade, for instance, needs to be honed before use. As it applies to skills, it appeals to our biases that skills necessarily get better through every day use.
    – AdamO
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 16:24
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In the context of tools, "burnished" is quite common, perhaps amplified as "burnished by use". For a path, "trodden by many feet"?

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  • Burnishing is a wear pattern, but almost exclusively refers to polishing metal by rubbing through use. One could not burnish a path into the ground. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 12:34
  • @Nuclear Hoagie, Yes I made that distinction.
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 14:08
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It's not a verb, but these sorts of eroded trails created by natural foot traffic can be called "desire paths". The phrase exactly captures the notion of a path that's eroded by constant use. Desire paths are usually shortcuts or more direct routes than the paved or recommended route, so it might not apply to an isolated, well-trodden trail in the woods, but would apply to a direct route up a hill next to a winding sidewalk, for example. The "desire" aspect somewhat connotes the "with love" aspect, as the path only exists because people actually walk the route and find it useful.

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The once usual unmarked (for goodness of intent, care taken, affection) term is beat [a path]:

beat ... 2c: to make by repeated treading or driving over

  • [They] beat a path through the woods.

[Merriam-Webster]

Google ngrams show that the fixed verbo-nominal expression 'beat a path' is used if anything more frequently nowadays.

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  • (Hence the antonym ‘off the beaten track’.)
    – gidds
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 13:38
  • To me, beaten path has a negative ring to it because it is usually used in negation (as, I see, gidds just remarked) to express creativity or innovation or adventurousness, implying that the beaten path is dull and lacks novelty. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 13:41
  • OTOH the beaten path is still the most used and even if it's boring it's safe.
    – aslum
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 16:25
  • @Peter 'They beat a path through the woods' is used for new / quite new explorations. 'Beaten path' was not my suggestion. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 16:30
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A want path or desire path is created simply because it is where people want to go, even if there is no designated road or path. It becomes eroded through desired use, be it a path connecting homes through yards in a neighborhood or a shortcut on a trail. The word "desire" is built in, pretty positive.

A desire path (often referred to as a desire line in transportation planning), also known as a game trail, social trail, fishermen trail, herd path, cow path, elephant path, buffalo trace, goat track, pig trail, use trail and bootleg trail, is an unplanned small trail created as a consequence of mechanical erosion caused by human or animal traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or the most easily navigated route between an origin and destination, and the width and severity of its surface erosion are often indicators of the traffic level it receives.

It's the most loved and used or useful way to get somewhere often because it's so direct. People might avoid sidewalks or other designated paths to take and make these paths of least resistance in spite of infrastructure planning.

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"Forge" is one option. One of it's definitions is, "to form or make, especially by concentrated effort" (according to Dictionary.com). But also, "forge a path" or "forge your own path" is a pretty common phrase in English, which is used both figuratively and literally.

Here is a figurative example: "she forged a path for women in athletics", from this article about Sue Willey.

And here is a more literal example: "forge a path through the forest at full stride", from this reddit post about a video game.

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If you're looking for an active, positive take on erosion, 'chiseled' could certainly work. It implies intent, craftsmanship and hardness.

chiseled

adjective US /ˈtʃɪz·əld/ - Clearly marked with firm lines.

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polished

  1. Made smooth or shiny by polishing. "polished shoes"

  2. Refined, elegant. "a polished performance"

-- https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/polished

Polishing literally applies to deliberately rubbing until what remains is smooth and shiny.

Things that are often touched (the wooden handles of tools, the nose of bronze animal sculptures, brass doorknobs, brass stair railings, granite steps, flagstones, etc.) are (more metaphorically) often described as polished, caused by the accidental process of rubbing off microscopic amounts of material at a time.

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I vote for carved! Past tense of Carve. The r sound has always felt rich and delectable to me when reading it.

carve 1: to cut with care or precision

  • carved fretwork

[Merriam-Webster]

According to Google ngrams carve a path appears to have more frequent usage this century

enter image description here

P.S. I can't post this in good conscience without acknowledging I have stolen the formatting from @Edin Ashworth's post

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  • I found the UK's "Ridgeway" described as 'Carved through the countryside', it definitely fits.
    – JeffUK
    Commented Oct 14, 2023 at 10:18
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Love-worn is a single-word option, since you've mentioned "crafted with love by use". It describes something worn or impaired with use, but something you've used (or done) lovingly. It is not a dictionary word and not as common; rather poetic, but one can find usages.

For example, Sir Josiah Henry Symon used love-worn path in his book Shakespeare the Englishman:

If the eyes of the painted bust over the grave in Trinity Church could see, they would look out upon the silver bosom of the Avon; they might almost see the love-worn path to Shottery, and the road to the home of his mother's girlhood.

Love-worn is more commonly used with items, like a teddy-bear or a blanket.

At Itlhokomeleng Old Age Home in Alexandra, a peek into a tiny purple room revealed two small beds with love-worn teddy bears on the pillows. - latimes.com

Note: I believe most answers given are neutral at best unless you use some sort of adverb and you've used a strong word like "love". I know that love-worn is not an everyday word and it is not common like some other answers; but your context appears to be literary or poetic per your explanation. Although, the question could benefit from more details and an example sentence.

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Well Carved, devotionally grooved, tenderly marked, serenely eroded.

I actually resorted to gpt for this because it's an unusual context.

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I'm not sure I would use it for a path specifically, but in other contexts patinated can serve a similar purpose.


patinated /ˈpatɪneɪtɪd/ adjective

  1. (of a metal) having a green or brown film produced by oxidation. "a patinated bronze sculpture"
  2. having a gloss or sheen resulting from age or polishing. "patinated red leather upholstery"

Although patination most properly describes a chemical process affecting metals. It is widely used colloquially to describe the attractive accumulation of wear over time. For example, what could be viewed as defects in an antique piece of furniture will often be described by a dealer as "an attractive patina".

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  • Also whilst the word "patina" is in fairly widespread use, the adjective "patinated" is definitely not. I know I've never heard it in conversation. I could figure it out, sure, but it isn't something you'd just throw in. The only connotation you'd get would be "I'm having technical jargon thrown at me". :)
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 15:12
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“Whittled?

whittle

  1. To cut or shape wood with a knife.
  2. To reduce or gradually eliminate something (such as a debt). …

It's got a positive connotation of craftsmanship and care, along with the physical aspect of removing material. It does imply more precision and deliberateness than "eroded", though, but I think that could be good or bad depending on your specific situation and intent.

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    Chiseled is equivalent too. Commented Oct 14, 2023 at 2:49
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    @bandybabboon I think "chiseled" connotates a somewhat harder and sharper surface (e.g. stone), whereas whittled works better for more fluid, organic shapes (e.g. wood) like a path.
    – Will Chen
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 3:31

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