I was surprised, but not too surprised, to learn that Spanish has borrowed the noun trekking from English. A search for that word in the Spanish-language Wikipedia redirects to the article for the synonymous excursionismo, which is defined as ‘una actividad física que consiste en realizar travesías o rutas por un medio natural con un fin recreativo.’

While the verb trek is pithy enough for it to be a native English word, it isn’t. English turned to another Germanic language, Afrikaans, which is the form of Dutch that developed in South Africa, for trek, from the Dutch verb trekken that means ‘to travel.’ In Middle Dutch the sense had been ‘to pull,’ but of course until relatively recently in human history people traveled* in vehicles pulled by horses, mules, oxen, or other strong animals. In fact, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “The earliest recorded use of the noun by itself is found in 1849, where it means ‘a stage in a journey by ox wagon.'”

I don’t know if this is the source that the writers of that dictionary had in mind, but here is a passage from “Life in the Bush,” which appeared in 1849 in Volume III of the magazine The Daguerrotype:


* An early post in this blog traced the origins of travel and trabajar, which most people are surprised to find are cognates.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 21:20:35

    Don’t forget the Trekkers and Trekkies! As I understand it, fans of the original Star Trek series are Trekkies and those who came later are Trekkers.

    When I lived in Victoria, I knew a woman (born in 1887) whose parents arrived in the now-disappeared Indianola by ship from Germany just prior to the destruction of the port by dual hurricanes. They walked across the prairie to Victoria with an ox-cart – a true instance of trekking.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 13, 2012 @ 21:24:33

      That true-life instance of trekking is a good one, tied as it is to the history of Texas and the lost settlement of Indianola. I hope you’ll write up an account of it (if you haven’t already done so).


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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