General English

General Science

  • noun a mark put on a tree to show that it needs to be felled or to indicate a path through a forest

Origin & History of “blaze”

There are three distinct words blaze in English. The commonest, meaning ‘fire, flame’ (OE), comes from a prehistoric Germanic *blasōn. Its original signification was ‘torch’ (in the sense, of course, of a burning piece of wood or bunch of sticks), but by the year 1000 the main current meaning was established. The precise source of blaze ‘light-coloured mark or spot’ (17th c.) is not known for certain, but there are several cognate forms in other Germanic languages, including Old Norse blesi and German blässe; perhaps the likeliest candidate as far as blaze is concerned is middle Low German bles. The verbal usage, as in ‘blaze a trail’ (that is, by making conspicuous marks on trees) originated in the mid 18th century. The related German adjective blass ‘pale’, which originally meant ‘shining’, points up the fact that ultimately these two words blaze are related, the primeval sense ‘shining’ having diverged on the one hand through ‘pale’, on the other through ‘glowing, burning’.

The third blaze, ‘proclaim’ (14th c.), as in ‘blaze abroad’, is now seldom encountered. It originally meant ‘blow a trumpet’, and comes ultimately from the Indo-European base *bhlā- (source of blow). Its immediate source in English was Middle Dutch blāsen. Despite its formal and semantic similarity, it does not appear to have any connection with blazon (13th c.), which comes from Old French blason ‘shield’, a word of unknown origin.

A blazer (19th c.) got its name from being a brightly coloured jacket (from blaze meaning ‘fire, flame’). It originated among English university students in the late 19th century. According to a correspondent in the Daily News 22 August 1889, the word was originally applied specifically to the red jackets worn by members of the ‘Lady Margaret, St John’s college, Cambridge, boat Club’. But by the 1880s its more general application had become widely established: in the Durham University Journal of 21 February 1885 we read that ‘the latest novelty … for the river is flannels, a blazer, and spats’.