language change and slang Live English Open Dictionary

Open Dictionary word of the week: desire path

desire path (noun)
(also desire line)

a planning term referring to a path made by walkers or cyclists, as opposed to one that is officially planned

A paper by Carl Myhill examines how companies can be successful by focusing on the desire lines of their products and customers…

(Submitted from United Kingdom)

There’s something rather lovely about pictures of desire paths: there’s the measured, well-built road that ought to be taken and then there’s the beaten path, dusty and rugged that veers off, or curves around, or makes some other sort of short-cut before rejoining the main way. Two roads diverged in a wood and one was a desire path and so I took it because I knew that it marked a natural flow, that it could be trusted to get me there quicker and was created by real feet not hypothetical feet … something like that that makes desire paths lovely in a symbolic sort of way.

I know an architect who, before doing anything else, asks her clients if she can observe how they cook a meal in the kitchen, for example, so that she can see what they actually require, what would actually make things flow to suit them and then she designs accordingly. Desire design.

And so it is for language – especially for English, I think. We discuss usage here a lot and it often happens that many people don’t like new usages, incorrect usages, verbing nouns, sinning against syntax, dropping punctuation – but like all desire paths they’ll only become well-trodden if they work and they’ll usually rejoin the main road … and they make language accessible, characterful and exciting.

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Laine Redpath Cole


  • Interesting post, but when I clicked through the link that was ostensibly going to show me pictures of desire paths, I got a 500 Internal Server Error message. When I e-mailed the webmaster referred to in the error message, I got a bounce (Mailer-Daemon). I assume you’ll want to fix the link in the blog post and perhaps also the webmaster address in your error message.

  • Thanks for letting us know about this, Ruth. Sometimes sites disappear and that is what had happened in this case so I have now linked to a new image. The error message is from the site of the original image and so has nothing to do with us. Best wishes from the Macmillan Dictionary team.

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