Term for Efficient Pathfinding
February 16, 2011 6:29 PM   Subscribe

What is the term that describes pathways out of trampled grass made by animals or humans navigating the most efficient route?

For example students cutting across an university square creating a path out of grass because it's the most efficient route. I seem to remember a specific term for this, but google's failing me.
posted by pakoothefakoo to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
wish paths
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:30 PM on February 16, 2011

I have heard this termed "paths of desire."
posted by itstheclamsname at 6:35 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or, apparently, desire path.
posted by itstheclamsname at 6:36 PM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Desire path
posted by Paragon at 6:36 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

That was fast. Thanks!
posted by pakoothefakoo at 6:43 PM on February 16, 2011

The Wikipedia article linked to above uses "desire path" but all of the references in the article actually use "desire line." "Desire line" also gets way more hits on a Google search.
posted by twirlip at 6:43 PM on February 16, 2011

I would think simply 'path' would cover it.
posted by zippy at 7:39 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

well, a rectangle describes a square, but it doesn't make it the best descriptor. the specific term is desire line. the distinction is useful when differentiating between the paths in situations like this.
posted by nadawi at 8:01 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've heard them called "cow paths"
posted by comatose at 9:35 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

In hiking they are called social trails.
posted by rachums at 9:45 PM on February 16, 2011

Where I grew up (near moorland grazed by sheep and cows) they were called 'sheep trails'.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:07 AM on February 17, 2011

In the woods, they're called "game trails."
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:35 AM on February 17, 2011

A friend of mine used to call them "democracy paths", but it's kind of interesting to see that they have a "real" name. Neat question.
posted by ashirys at 6:57 AM on February 17, 2011

On reflection, 'trail' might be better than path. The normal state of trails, and here I'm thinking of paths that evolve through the movement of people and animals, rather than a planning authority, is to efficiently get from A to B given the terrain and obstacles.

I think wish trail and its ilk are a back-formation like analog watch. Not that that is a bad thing, but that the original meaning of trail covers the case, and wish trail isn't in wide enough use that I would recommend it over trail.

(I grew up in a wooded part of the US, so this influences what I think of as a trail).
posted by zippy at 9:44 AM on February 17, 2011

Sweet Juniper's post about them titled "Streets With No Name" mentions this: "Gaston Bachelard called these les chemins du d├ęsir: pathways of desire. Paths that weren't designed but eroded casually away by individuals finding the shortest distance between where they are coming from and where they intend to go." Now, whomever Gaston Bachelard is, I don't know, but the post is nice bit of writing that's always resonated within me.
posted by peagood at 11:24 AM on February 17, 2011

The term "desire lines" is used in my industry constantly. I've never heard or read anyone using the term "desire path".
posted by oneirodynia at 11:19 PM on February 17, 2011

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