1. An unsettled, uncultivated region, especially:
a. A large tract of land that has not been significantly affected by human activities.
b. A tract of land officially protected from development and other high-impact human activities.
c. A barren or desolate area; a wasteland.
2. Something characterized by bewildering vastness, perilousness, or unchecked profusion: a wilderness of unknown city streets; a wilderness of voices.
3. A state of neglect, powerlessness, or disfavor: "The failure of the Clinton health plan in 1994 opened the door to the Republicans' capture of Congress after forty years in the wilderness" (Jacob S. Hacker).
[Middle English, from Old English *wilddēornes, probably from wilddēor, wild beast : wilde, wild + dēor, wild animal.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.