If you stop to think about it, many slang phrases in the American lexicon originated as song lyrics. The majority of these seemingly fall out of favor as quickly as they appear. Part of this has to do with the fact these terms become dated, thus dating the person who uses them frequently and giving the impression to listeners that a speaker is trying too hard to be informal in their speaking manner. On the other hand, there are examples of some slang terms, such as “blaze a trail” that remain relevant because they can be used in a variety of situations and aren’t considered as being tied to a certain time period.
Idiom: Blaze a Trail
The idiom ‘blaze a trail’ means to begin a new undertaking, to find a new path or method to solve a lingering problem, or to lead the way.
The work that he did on molecular biology blazed the trail for new branches of science.
Looking at the expression piece by piece, the word blaze refers to fire and smoke. It was especially used in the late 18th century when soldiers were said to blaze away with their weapons.
From here, blaze a trail, when used in its literal sense, means to mark or make a trail with the use of fire. Its literal meaning can also be used to refer to someone who leaves a smoldering trail behind them as they vigorously pass others.
When looking at it from a figurative angle however, the term takes on a different meaning. A blaze is also used to refer to a mark or a notch, and blazing a trail, in its early years, meant chipping off small pieces of bark from trees to mark a boundary or a path.
One of the earliest citations of this specific use, albeit in a different form, was in the 1750 Journal of Exploration by Dr. Thomas Walker, where he said:
“I blazed a way from our house to the river.”
From here, the definition evolved. Marking a path for others to follow was not exclusive to actual forest paths or trails anymore. Leading the way or blazing a trail, so to speak, was now used to describe how one paves the way for others in a certain field of study, or for people to have similar feats.
Accent Reduction idioms series
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