I'm in the process of naming some routes and roads in my medieval fantasy themed world, and I want to specify routes that could only be managed on foot. I'm tempted to say trails, but since every body walked so much back then I'm not sure if they'd even make the distinction; I just imagine it would be roads and paths. Any thoughts on this?...

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    $\begingroup$ Medieval Japan would most certainly not use the word 'trail' as it is an English word. Perhaps you might want to define which medieval culture you are interested in? $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Nov 4 '19 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ Probably more relevant to ask over at History $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Nov 4 '19 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ You might want to be more specific about the time period as medieval refers to a period lasting about 900 years. It's not just the country either as suggested, the specific area of the country you're interested in would almost certainly have had it's own unique dialect. Then again, if you write your story in vocabulary from seventh-century Cornwall, 99.999% of your readers won't know what you're saying - worthy of consideration. $\endgroup$ – Rottweiler on market-day. Nov 5 '19 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ Since your medieval society wouldn't be speaking Modern English (and probably not English at all), you'd have to figure out what terms they use for different sorts of routes used for foot traffic (but not for wheeled vehicles), and translate. It's perfectly possible that they make distinctions between heavily-used routes, seldom used ones, places people walk in towns, &c, just as we have different words for road, street, freeway... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 5 '19 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ In fantasy and science fiction writing it is very common to write the book in a modern language, but pick words that shift the reader's mind towards a particular culture and technology level. In this case, the OP wants to give a medieval flavor, so it makes sense to prefer terms that were in use in the middle ages, but that will be understood by readers of modern English. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Nov 5 '19 at 17:05

The first use reported in the Oxford English Dictionary for "trail" with the meaning "A path or track worn by the passage of persons travelling in a wild or uninhabited region; a beaten track, a rude path. (Chiefly U.S. and Canadian; also New Zealand and Australian.) Cf. nature trail n. at nature n. Compounds 4b." is from 1807:

1807 P. Gass Jrnls. 125 We proceeded down the river through dreadful narrows, where the rocks were in some places breast high, and no path or trail of any kind.

The word "trail" is much older, but with different meanings. In the 15th century it was used for the train of a robe or other garment.

Of course, the lack of any reports of the "path or track" meaning before 1807 does not prove it was not used earlier with that meaning, but it seems very unlikely to date back to the middle ages with no recorded uses.

The word "path" with meaning "A way or track formed by the continued treading of pedestrians or animals, rather than one deliberately planned and made; a narrow unmade and (usually) unenclosed way that people on foot can use." dates back to Old English, and has reported uses in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It seems to be just what you want.

  • $\begingroup$ Damn what a perfect answer. Thank you! $\endgroup$ – Graffiti Child Nov 6 '19 at 2:18

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