Boondocks came to English in 1910 from the Tagalog word bundok, meaning mountain. American soldiers (who were occupying the Philippines at the time), brought it home to America, though in the process, the meaning morphed from mountain to any remote & wild place. By 1964, we had shortened boondocks to boonies.
Hinterland (or hinterlands) showed up in English in 1890 from German, -land meaning, well, land, & hinter- meaning behind (as in hind, behind, & hindmost). Interestingly, as far back as the 1300s, hinder had made its way into Middle English. One of the hinder-related words we’ve lost over time is the word hinderling, meaning a person who has fallen from moral or social respectability,
Though stick (in the form of stician) has been a part of the language since folks spoke Old English, the boondocks meaning of the sticks didn’t show up until 1905.
Those Old English speakers also used the word wildnis, which has changed over the centuries to wilderness. It was initially an adjective meaning wildness & savageness, though along the way it took on a nounly mantle.
Another modern synonym is the idiom the middle of nowhere. I’ve been unsuccessful at finding when this idiom entered the language, but along the way I learned that nowhere had some siblings who didn’t last as long. Nowhat made a stab at existing in the 1520s & nowhen fought for its life unsuccessfully in 1764.
As a kid I was flummoxed at the term desert island because it seemed to me it always meant something closer to deserted island. Mystery solved: the word desert entered English from French in the early 1200s, meaning wasteland or wilderness. It wasn’t until a century later that desert started meaning treeless, waterless region, which, arguably, could also be a wasteland, or the sticks, or the boondocks, or…
What other terms do you know that refer to distant, remote places? Or might you have something to say about all this? I hope you’ll leave a comment.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Merriam Webster, Wordnik & Etymonline,
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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