What is the origin of trailblaze?
Trailblaze “to be a pioneer in something” is a back formation from the noun trailblazer. Back formations are words formed from other, slightly longer words by dropping what appears to be a suffix; in English, this frequently results in verbs formed from nouns, such as edit from editor, or—as we learned from the recent Word of the Day fomites—singular nouns formed from plurals. Trailblazer is a compound of trail “path across a wild region” and blaze “a mark made on a tree.” An earlier meaning of blaze, however, was “a white area on an animal’s face,” and the definition has since expanded to refer to similarly noticeable spots elsewhere. Blaze in the sense of “fire, torch” is related to blaze in the sense “white area,” albeit more distantly; in the Indo-European language family, words for both light and dark colors often derive from roots meaning “fire,” “shine,” or “burn.” Trailblaze was first recorded in English in the early 1900s.