- Date: 13th century
The word "forest" comes from Middle English forest, from Old French forest (also forès) "forest, vast expanse covered by trees", believed to be a borrowing (probably via Frankish or Old High German) of the Medieval Latin word foresta "open wood". Foresta was first used by Carolingian scribes in the Capitularies of Charlemagne to refer specifically to the king's royal hunting grounds. The term was not endemic to the Romance languages (e.g. native words for "forest" in the Romance languages evolved out of the Latin word silva "forest, wood"; cf. Italian, Spanish, Portuguese selva; Romanian silvă; Old French selve); and cognates in Romance languages, such as Italian foresta, Spanish and Portuguese floresta, etc. are all ultimately borrowings of the French word. The exact origin of Medieval Latin foresta is obscure. Some authorities claim the word derives from the Late Latin phrase forestam silvam, meaning "the outer wood"; others claim the term is a latinisation of the Frankish word *forhist "forest, wooded country", assimilated to forestam silvam (a common practice among Frankish scribes). Frankish *forhist is attested by Old High German forst "forest", Middle Low German vorst "forest", Old English fyrhþ "forest, woodland, game preserve, hunting ground", and Old Norse fýri "coniferous forest", all of which derive from Proto-Germanic *furχísa-, *furχíþja- "a fir-wood, coniferous forest", from Indo-European *perkwu- "a coniferous or mountain forest, wooded height". Uses of the word "forest" in English to denote any uninhabited area of non-enclosure are now considered archaic. The word was introduced by the Norman rulers of England as a legal term (appearing in Latin texts like the Magna Carta) denoting an uncultivated area legally set aside for hunting by feudalism nobility (see Royal Forest). These hunting forests were not necessarily wooded much, if at all. However, as hunting forests did often include considerable areas of woodland, the word "forest" eventually came to mean wooded land more generally. By the start of the fourteenth century the word appeared in English texts, indicating all three senses: the most common one, the legal term and the archaic usage
Other terms used to mean "an area with a high density of trees" are wood, woodland, wold, weald and holt. Unlike forest, these are all derived from Old English and were not borrowed from another language. Some now reserve the term woodland for an area with more open space between trees.
A forest (also called a wood, woodland, wold, weald, wellard or holt) is an area with a high density of trees. There are many definitions of a forest, based on the various criteria. These plant communities cover approximately 9.4% of the Earth's surface (or 30% of total land area), though they once covered much more (about 50% of total land area), in many different regions and function as habitats for organisms, hydrologic flow modulators, and soil conservers, constituting one of the most important aspects of the Earth's biosphere. Although a forest is classified primarily by trees, a forest ecosystem is defined intrinsically with additional species such as fungi.