Forest words and where they came from

Have you ever said a word and wondered how on earth that collection of letters and sounds came to mean the thing you just said? Me too. I thought it would be quite interesting to have a look at some of the more frequently used words relating to ‘forests’ and see where they came from.

hunting scene

Might as well start with the obvious; the word for “forest”, or “forests”. This comes from the old Latin word “foris”, which means outside. In later Latin this became “forestis silva” which literally meant “wood outside”. It’s use came to English, via French, to mean a wooded area which was reserved for hunting, especially for the royalty and under protection of the king.

trees_06Tree” developed from the old english word “trēow, trēo” which has its origins in the Proto-Germanic “trewan” and Proto-Indo-European “deru-“. The word for “tree” is a variant upon these as the individual words, coming from a collection of similar words, come from the meaning of “oak”. Oak has particularly importance in mythology, especially the cross of the crucifixion, and had frequently been used to also mean the “thing made of wood”, or “wood spear”. The word “wood“, as we know it, came from a convergence of the welsh “gwŷdd” and gaelic “fiodh“, for trees, and the old english word “wudu“, which and means “a tree, tree, and the substance from which trees are made”. This word also has Germanic origins coming from the Proto-Germanic word “widuz“, which itself was derived from the Norse, Swedish, Danish, and Old High Germanic.

Silvi- is a prefix commonly used in words related to forest activities, it came from the word “silva” which was another Latin word for forests. It is from this that the name “Silvanus” in Roman mythology originated, where Silvanus was a Roman deity (guardian) of woods and fields, who apparently delighted in trees growing wild. The word “silvology“, which means the study of woods and forests, came from this and incorporates an understanding of natural forest ecosystems. This is strongly linked to “Silviculture“, which is the practise of growing and cultivating trees, ensuring they are preserved to improve their productivity for many different needs. “Arboreal“, which means relating to trees, again came from Latin, this time the word “arbor” which meant “tree”, and evolved over time to become “arboreus” which means “pertaining to trees”. Through the conversion of time, this became “arboreal” in English. Although this word is similar to “boreal”, which is used to describe the forested biome in northern Canada, Russia, and Scandinavia, they are not linked, with “boreal” coming from the Latin for north, “borealis“.

On a more personal note to Carbomap, our CEO’s name “Woodhouse” is also clearly related to forests. The name first originated in Anglo-Saxon Britain, and there are a number of possible origins for the name. The first possibility is that the name was derived from places named “Woodhouse”, which were derived from the old english for “wudu” (see above) and “hus” (house); thus meaning “houses by the wood”. Linked to this, is the thought that is came from someone who lived (in a house) in the wood. Another possibility is that the name arose from a description of the “woodward’s residence”, a woodward being the warden of some woodland owned by a landowner.


And lastly, perhaps the most suitable origin for our CEO, the name is also thought to originate from “Woodwose“, or “Wild Man of the Woods”. Woodwose was a mythical person that appears in medieval European literature and artwork, and has been likened to the satyr, or faun, of Roman legends.


Many thanks to the sources used:

Online Etymology Dictionary ; Google Wikipedia ; Wiktionary ; The Internet Surname Database ;


1 thought on “Forest words and where they came from

  1. Thank you for this morning’s education!
    I appreciate these cool digs into root words.

    Shall I fancy myself an oak? Wood eye? 😉
    Cheerz to you this holiday season! Peace, Uncle Tree

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