Rewilding is not a new term – it was coined at the beginning of the 1990s – but I do find it appealing both as a concept and a word. Rewilding is the practice of helping areas of land to return to their natural state, and thus encouraging the return of flora and fauna that may have been driven out through human intervention. Surely a wonderful thing, to undo years of damage and deterioration caused by us humans and to allow plants and wildlife to return and flourish once more! There are rewilding projects going on all around the world, and it would be great to hear of any you know about in the comments below. For example here in the UK, beavers are slowly being reintroduced after having been extinct here for around 400 years, mainly as a result of being hunted for their fur and meat.
As a dictionary person, I am also drawn to the word itself. Looking at it we can clearly see how its formation began, with the word wild. That’s normally an adjective, as in wild animals or the Wild West. It can also be a noun: to survive in the wild / to release an animal back into the wild / the wilds of Alaska. One thing that the word wild definitely isn’t though, is a verb. And yet rewild is one:
- an online course about how to rewild your garden
- Akagera has been restored and rewilded.
- They have helped to rewild the land.
The addition of the prefix re-, meaning ‘again’, turns it into a verb meaning ‘to make something wild again’. Other examples like this are refresh and renew. And then the suffix -ing has been added to make that verb into a noun to describe the activity (like skating and climbing). And bingo, there you have a neat new word in just a few short steps! English can be good like that, you can chop it up and build it back as something new.
Here are some other environment-themed words featuring affixes. Can you think of any more?
- deforestation = forest (= noun) + -ation (= the action of) + de- (= removing something)
- overfishing = fish (= verb) + -ing (= to make the noun) + over- (= too much)
- renewable = new (adj) + re- (= again) + -able (= that can be)
- sustainability = sustain (= verb) + -ability (= the quality of being able to be)
- conservationist = conservation (= noun) + -ist (= a person who practises something)
- regeneration = generate (= verb) + -ation (= the action of) + re- (= again)
So, just as words can change their meanings and usage with affixes, areas of land can be transformed by initiatives such as rewilding. During the first lockdown in the UK in 2020, when town centres were deserted, a herd of goats hit the news headlines with their activities. Have a look at the video below, is this an example of animals taking the matter of rewilding into their own hands, er I mean hooves?
Jennifer Bradbery is Digital Product Development Manager in the ELT Dictionaries department at Oxford University Press. Before joining OUP as an editor, she spent many years either teaching, teacher training, or both, in the UK and abroad.