For longer than I care to admit, I’ve been editing a book about the history of wildlife management in Arizona during the first 50 years after statehood.
Here’s one of the many interesting things I’ve learned in the course of editing this book. Back in the olden days, they used the term “wild life,” two words. Not “wildlife,” the word we use today.
I like that older term. It has a slightly different, richer flavor, doesn’t it?
To call our diverse fauna “wild life” gives each word special emphasis. When animals are “wildlife,” they are lumped together as all one thing: critters. Using two words, “wild life” maintains the variety and variability of life itself. Plus, it’s not tame, it’s not human, it’s wild.
For “wild life” to become “wildlife” mirrors a trend seen throughout the English language. It’s not a case specific to nature writing. In general, English words come together, first as hyphenated friends, then as compound words. So says the omniscient proofreader who followed my tracks through the book and corrected my commas—and I believe her.
I like the term “wild life” so much that I briefly thought about changing the name of this blog to “Words for Wild Life.” But at this stage in the development of our language, that would be a whole different blog, I think.