WATCHWORDS (1)

By: HILOBROW
December 16, 2021

Illustration by Seth

In October, McGill-Queen’s University Press published The Adventurer’s Glossary by HILOBROW’s Joshua Glenn, in collaboration with the philosopher Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth. The following excerpt from the book was first published by BOING BOING.

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Here are five sample entries from the glossary’s “A” section:

A-OK:
Air Force Lt Col John Powers, public affairs officer for Project Mercury, which introduced the world to America’s first astronauts, popularized this term, which means, “perfect, no problems,” when he borrowed it from NASA engineers – who, because “A” is a sharper sound than “O,” employed it during radio transmission tests. PS: The phrase all systems go, meaning “ready for action,” also emerged from Project Mercury.
See: 5 BY 5, ROGER THAT

ADVENTURE: An adventure is a risky endeavor whose outcome is unknown. That last bit is crucial; every true adventure involves not merely action but a venturesome, hopeful X factor — a risk to be dared, a discovery to be made, a puzzle to be solved, a mystery to be cracked. Derived from the Latin advenire (”arrive”), the term developed the sense of “that which happens or befalls unexpectedly.” Viewed through this lens, absurd coincidences and lucky occurrences are features, not bugs, of adventure stories.
See: ACTION, CHANCE, LUCKY

AGONISTIC
To be agonistic is to be fiercely competitive, forever striving to overcome one’s peers; the term is derived from the Greek for “contestant.” Nietzsche, who believed that the excellence of ancient Greek civilization could be chalked up to its agonistic culture, claimed that one’s best friend should also be one’s worst – most challenging – enemy.

AHEAD OF THE CURVE
In aviation, the interaction between drag and airspeed can be plotted on a curve; to be ahead of the power curve is therefore to maintain good speed and altitude. In the 1920s, this technical jargon became a colloquialism meaning “better than predicted”; now, it’s chiefly used in jargon-friendly business contexts, by those looking to anticipate developments.
See: PUSH THE ENVELOPE

ALERT
The French military phrase à l’herte – which means, literally, “standing on a height,” i.e., from which superior vantage point one can remain vigilantly on the lookout – gave us alert, which is to say, “engaged in close observation of a situation, event, or one’s surroundings.” As a noun, the term means “an alarm from a real or threatened attack.”
See: VIGILANT

Looking for a gift for a word nerd and/or lover of adventure? Your quest ends here!

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MORE ADVENTURE on HILOBROW: Katia Krafft | Freya Stark | Louise Arner Boyd | Mary Kingsley | Bruce Chatwin | Hester Lucy Stanhope | Annie Smith Peck | Richard Francis Burton | Isabella Lucy Bird | Calamity Jane | Ernest Shackleton | Osa Helen Johnson | Redmond O’Hanlon | Gertrude Bell | George Mallory | Neta Snook | Jane Digby | Patty Wagstaff | Wilfred Thesiger | Joe Carstairs | Florence “Pancho” Barnes | Erskine Childers | Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Michael Collins | Thor Heyerdahl | Jean-Paul Clébert | Tristan Jones | Neil Armstrong

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Adventure

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