December 17, 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.


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

Chance, which is to say fortuity, accident, the unforeseen falling out of events – the ultimate derivation of the term is from the Latin cadentia (falling, e.g., think of tumbling dice) – is adventure’s crucial ingredient. If everything goes perfectly according to plan, if there are no accidents, no opportunities for taking a risk, then your so-called adventure is, in fact, merely an excursion, a jaunt. PS: A chancer adapts to whatever new situation may arrive or evolve.

In the Bible, the Greek term χάρισμα describes a talent vouchsafed by God, thereby demonstrating one’s authority. It was popularized in the 1920s by the German sociologist Max Weber – who deployed charisma to mean “the capacity to inspire devotion or enthusiasm.” In the game Dungeons & Dragons, a character’s charisma modifier affects how successfully she is able to inspire enthusiasm, bluff, and intimidate. A useful trait for adventurers to cultivate.

In Hebrew, chutzpah is used indignantly – to describe someone who has behaved in an unacceptable (contrary, insolent, hubristic, even sociopathic) manner. However, by the time it entered American English as a Yiddishism in the 1960s, having been popularized through vernacular use in literature, film, and television, the term had evolved to describe actions which are shameless in a good – plucky, cheeky – sense. The former usage still predominates in Israel.

Before Marie Kondo hipped us to the life-changing magic of tidying up, Americans had coined innumerable euphemisms for violence (e.g., clean one’s plow, take one to the cleaners) suggesting that getting one’s face punched offers much-needed perspective on how you’ve been spending your time. The idiom clean one’s clock seems to have originally been a piece of US railroad jargon, meaning “bring the train to a sudden stop” – i.e. by applying the airbrakes, thus “cleaning” (resetting) the train’s air gauge (clock).

The Thing, a founding member of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four, grew up streetwise on New York’s Lower East Side. His speech mannerisms, including his battle cry It’s clobberin’ time, were inspired by those of the Lower East Side born-and-bred actor and comedian Jimmy Durante. PS: The British slang term clobber, meaning “thumping, beating,” is likely onomatopoeic in origin; supposedly, the word sounds like far-off detonations.

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


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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