Forests are burning across Western Canada. They do this every summer (we have a heck of a lot of forest), so every year we hear a lot about them on the news.
For a few years now, I've been intrigued by what we call these fires. It seems to me that in my youth they were always called "forest fires", but nowadays they are "wildfires". I decided to check whether my intuition was correct, and this is what I found by searching for each term in the archives of The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, two of our major newspapers.
*The 2014 numbers reflect a search in all of Canada's major dailies and weeklies, not a disastrous increase in fires. I searched only the plural form to remove any metaphorical usages of "wildfire". "Wildfire" is much more frequent as a spelling than "wild fire".
It would seem that my intuition that "wildfire" is gaining on "forest fire" is correct. My typically Canadian kneejerk reaction was to blame this on American influence, a result of hearing reports of annual "wildfires" in California, where what is burning is usually grass or brush rather than forest. But really, I have no explanation for this. Judging by the American corpus, Americans have in the past used the word "forest fire" as much as or more than "wildfire". And in fact, "wildfire" is a much older term than "forest fire", with evidence for the former dating back at least to the 1100s, whereas the latter first appeared in the 19th century.
Have you noticed this shift in Canadian usage as well? What did you call these fires in your youth, and what do you call them now? Do you have any theories as to why we would switch to "wildfire" from "forest fire"?
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