Etymology of Trail blaze


Senior Member
Ireland: English-speaking ♂
While looking for a translation of the word repère, in the context of randonnée, I found UK way mark or Canada trail blaze.
This made me wonder if the term trail blazing in US English hasn’t come directly from the French balisage, putting une balise (way marker/blaze) to mark the route. Perhaps it’s just be fanciful, but French trappers would have made excellent guides for folks going west, back in the day.
Does anyone know where I might find proof, or where I might disprove my idea.
One online source suggests Norse roots. But French were more numerous (than Germans or Norwegians) on the frontiers between 1660 and 1750, when this word transitioned into US English.
blaze (v.3)

"to mark" (a tree, a trail), usually by cutting of a piece of bark so as to leave a white spot, 1750, American English, from blaze(n.) "white mark made on a tree" (1660s), from blaze (n.2).
With the French word listed as 1475
BALISE : Etymologie de BALISE

balise /baliz/ to /treɪl bleɪz/ a mishearing of the French. Le mot viens du portugais baliza 1475
Any thoughts?
Last edited:
  • Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    Quote from page 495 of the article Recolections of the American War by Dr. Dunlop published, in 1847, at The Literary Garland, and British North American Magazine; a monthly repository of tales, sketches, poetry, music, engravings &c. &c. &c. New series. Volume V. (pages 493-496):
    In Canada, the line is marked through the forest by what is termed a Surveyor's blaze (a corruption of the French balise,) seeing that boughs are stuck in the snow to guide travellers.


    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Thanks for that. Most present day sources insisted it was called after the markings on a horse’s face. Which occasionally looks similar.
    Blaze - A blaze is a medium to wide white marking that runs for all or most of the length of the horse's face. They are usually even in width, or close to it, from top to bottom.
    Whereas the reverse is probaly true. Guides would chop the bark off trees with a couple of swift blows of an axe to mark the path. I suspect the similarities made for a reverse etymology?


    Senior Member
    Dr (aka Tiger) Dunlop was an extremely well educated man, but not a trained linguist. However, I'd trust his opinion on this, given that he was there at the time, and the other sources were not.
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