December 23, 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 “W” section:

In skateboarding and roller derby, if your feet fly out from under you, it’s known as a wilson or Mr Wilson – after the grumpy neighbour of Dennis the Menace (in the newspaper cartoon of that title), who’d often fall in that particular way. Fun fact: In the MMO gaming community, a Wilson is someone who runs away at the first sign of trouble; this refers to the disappearance of Tom Hanks’s “friend” Wilson, in Castaway.

A fugitive or escaped person is sometimes said to be in the wind. The phrase likely derives from the sixteenth-century expression have in the wind, which is to say, of hunting dogs, “be on the scent or trail of, be in search of.” Reminder to fugitives: Always stay downwind of the dogs!

Wit is more than mere cleverness or ingenuity. The term, which comes from a proto-Germanic word meaning “understanding,” describes one’s capacity for puncturing the commonsense mythologies of one’s culture, making surprising connections between disparate phenomena… and regarding the resulting big picture (that one has in this fashion discovered) ironically.

Worry is derived from an Old High German word meaning “strangle”; it came to mean “seize by the throat with the teeth,” said for example of wolves attacking their prey. By the nineteenth century, the term was used in a figurative sense – to describe the (wolf-like) attack of mental disquietude. In order to avoid paralysis of will, an adventurer must fend off such attacks. As Amelia Earhart put it, “Worry retards reaction and makes clear-cut decisions impossible.”

The ideal of “action without action” or “effortless doing” is captured in the Chinese philosophical concept of wu wei (literally, “inexertion”), which denotes a state of perfect efficaciousness made possible by complete knowledge of the reality of the situation. When in such a rarefied state, one acts in a manner that is spontaneous yet not unconsidered.

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