One of the most popular words for a while popped up on HH today: a wilsome path is a wandering, winding route that works its way through difficult or remote terrain.
It might be tempting, bearing that definition in mind, to presume that wilsome is perhaps some kind of contraction of “wild-some”—after all, wilderness, as we’ve found out before on Haggard Hawks, literally comes from a mangled amalgam of “wild deer.”
It’s a nice idea, but alas it’s not the case. In fact, there’s arguably an even lovelier tale to tell here.
The “wil–” of wilsome is actually precisely that: a largely long-forgotten adjective, will, that means “straying,” “wandering,” or “having become lost.” In that sense, will derives from an Old Norse word, villr, essentially meaning “erroneous” or “erring,” which first crept into the regional vocabularies of the northernmost parts of Britain in the early Middle English period. It survives today only in a handful these regional dialects, mainly in a looser sense of “lost,”or “bewildered.”
And it’s this wandering will that lies at the root of wilsome.