By: Joshua Glenn
December 31, 2021

To idle is to work on meaningful and varied projects — and to take it easy. The series title refers to this self-proclaimed idler’s inability to take it easy.

HILOBROW is a noncommercial blog! The info below should not be construed as a vulgar advertisement for SEMIOVOX, UNBORED, THE ADVENTURER’S GLOSSARY, MIT PRESS’s RADIUM AGE SERIES, SEMIOFEST SESSIONS, LOST OBJECTS, GO WEST, or any of my various more-or-less profitable projects. It is merely an update on my doings and undoings — in this case, during 2021.

MORE HYPOCRISY: 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021 | 2022 | 2023 | 1Q2024 | 2Q2024 | 3Q2024.

Also see: HILOBROW 2021.


She never flew anywhere without it.

THE ADVENTURER’S GLOSSARY, my latest collaboration with the philosopher Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth, was published by McGill Queen’s University Press in September. Here’s a sample endorsement:

“Joshua Glenn, Mark Kingwell, and Seth combine their talents to embark on a grand linguistic adventure. Together they map out the power of language to help the explorer navigate a rich narrative.” — Ann Bancroft, first woman to trek to the North and South Poles

The book has received a few nice mentions, so far:

  • The AG was the lead title in MQUP’s Fall 2021 catalog.
  • A writeup in the September issue of Quill & Quire, Canada’s magazine of book news and reviews, claims the AG “takes the reader on a semantic journey sourced from the military, aviation, surfing, NASA, hip hop, comic books, extreme sports, gaming culture, and classic adventure literature.”
  • In October the Boston Globe‘s IDEAS section ran a full-page feature.
  • I was interviewed for the Dec. 10 episode of Travel Commons, a podcast whose motto is “It is more about the journey than the destination.”
  • In December, The Literary Review of Canada had a few nice things to say. Excerpt: “Glenn and Kingwell don’t merely define different types of adventure — they offer one to their readers.”
  • At BOING BOING, Mark Frauenfelder described The Adventurer’s Glossary as “a treat for the eyes and mind,” and advised: “Looking for a gift for a word nerd and/or lover of adventure? Your quest ends here!”

Mark, Seth, and I are very grateful to our editor, Khadija Coxon, to the entire team at MQUP, and to the book’s anonymous peer reviewers for their helpful comments and criticisms.


Josh conducting research in the field.

I’m co-founder of the semiotics-fueled branding consultancy SEMIOVOX. Our unique methodology provides insight and inspiration — to brands’ marketing, design, innovation, and consumer insights teams, as well as to agencies and other stakeholders — regarding the unspoken “codes” that help shape perceptions and guide behavior around product categories and/or sociocultural territories. We often augment our projects, which are frequently global in scope, with consumer research directed by our sister agency Consumer Eyes.

During 2021, among other fun projects, Semiovox audited…

  • The HOT SAUCE category (US brand comms), on behalf of one of the world’s oldest and most popular condiment brands. Brand elevation, product innovation, and marketing optimization.
  • “MEXICAN-NESS” themes (US culture and brand comms), on behalf of one of the world’s largest tequila makers — via our friends at the Canadian agency Athena Brand Wisdom. New product innovation.
  • APERITIF pack architecture (USA), on behalf of one of the world’s largest spirits companies — via our friends at the UK agency Visual Signo. Packaging structure optimization.
  • The COFFEE category (US brand comms), on behalf of one of the world’s largest beverage companies. Pack design and SKU innovation.
  • The EDUCATIONAL SOFTWARE category (US brand comms), on behalf of an educational software company — via our friends at the Russian agency LocalTalk. Marketing optimization.
  • The RTD TEA category (China brand comms), on behalf of one of the world’s largest beverage companies. Brand elevation, product innovation, and marketing optimization.
  • The RTD COFFEE category (Japan brand comms), on behalf of one of the world’s largest beverage companies. Brand elevation, product innovation, and marketing optimization.

We’ve also started work on the following projects, among others, which we’ll wrap up during 1Q2022.

  • RTD COFFEE pack architecture, across global markets including China, Japan, the UK and the USA, on behalf of an iconic European coffeeshop chain. Packaging structure optimization.
  • The LUXURY JEWELRY category (Chinese brand comms), on behalf of one of the world’s largest jewelry companies — via our friends at the UK agency B12 Strategies. Brand elevation and marketing optimization.
  • The BUSINESS INSURANCE category (US brand comms), on behalf of a European underwriter — via our friends at the UK agency Creative Semiotics. Brand elevation and marketing optimization.

I’m grateful to my commercial semiotics colleagues around the world, with whom it is always a pleasure to collaborate.


In November, I enjoyed speaking about my commercial semiotics practice with Laura Woolpert’s Market Insights class (within the Master of Design: Design Innovation program) at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. And also with J.P. Kuehlwein, for the benefit of his students in the Cosmetics and Fragrances Marketing and Management Master’s Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology.


I’m the editor, here at HILOBROW. To see what we published during 2021, please check out the HILOBROW 2021 post. To see what’s coming up next, please check out the SNEAK PEEK 1Q2022 post.

Here, I’ll just mention the following six series…

  • FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021) is a 25-part series dedicated to animated cartoons. As series editor, I’m grateful to Miranda Mellis, Mimi Lipson, Sam Glenn, Mandy Keifetz, Ramona Lyons, and the other contributors.
  • FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021) is a 25-part series dedicated to Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. As series editor, I’m grateful to Lucy Sante, Carlo Rotella, Michael Grasso, Adrienne Crew, Greg Rowland, and the other contributors.
  • SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021) is a 25-part series dedicated to favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres. Series editor Adam McGovern is grateful to Douglas Wolk, Lynn Peril, Ron Wimberly, Heather Kapplow, Carolyn Raship, and the other contributors.
  • NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021) is a 25-part series dedicated to nerdy obsessions. Series editor Peggy Nelson is grateful to Andrew Sempere, Nicholas Rombes, Vanessa Berry, Eric Weisbard, Kio Stark, and the other contributors.


In 2009–2010, Rob Walker and I collaborated on the literary/economic/anthropological experiment SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS. Over a decade later, we’re still working together — via PROJECT:OBJECT, here at HILOBROW. Here’s what PROJECT:OBJECT published during 2021:

  • SEMIO OBJECTS (2Q2021) is a 25-part series dedicated to significant objects owned by commercial semioticians from around the world. As series editor, I’m grateful to Seema Khanwalkar, Wei Fen Lee, Thierry Mortier, Sónia Marques, and the other contributors. The series was first published at our sister site, SEMIOVOX.
  • PROJECT:OBJECTIONABLE (4Q2021) is a 25-part series dedicated to personal objects that sparked alarm, outrage, and bewilderment. Series editor Adam McGovern is grateful to Elke Claus, Lauren Curtis, Oliver Baer, Crystal Durant, Alice Meichi Li, and the other contributors.

For more info on PROJECT:OBJECT, click here. See below for info on PROJECT:OBJECT’s forthcoming LOST OBJECTS book.


As mentioned above, I’m the cofounder of the semiotics-fueled brand consultancy Semiovox. I’m also editor of the website Semiovox.com, which publishes new content each week.

During 2021, I invited 30+ consulting semioticians from around the world to contribute to COVID CODES, a sixteen-part series offering an analysis of the Health & Wellness-themed “source codes” (e.g., signs) that shape our perception of the epidemic. Here’s the lineup:


As the series’ lead author and editor, I’m very grateful to Martha Arango (Colombia/Sweden), Daria Arkhipova (Russia/Italy), Chris Arning (UK), Maciej Biedziński (Poland), Mariane Cara (Brazil), Paulina Goch-Kenawy (Poland), Samuel Grange (France), Aiyana Gunjan (India), Sarah Johnson (Canada), Wei Fen Lee (Singapore), Charles Leech (Canada), Luca Marchetti (France/Italy), Sónia Marques (Portugal), Serdar Paktin (Turkey), Masha Papanthymou (Russia), Vijay Parthasarathy (US/India), Gabriela Pedranti (Argentina/Spain), Malex Salamanques Amiel (Venezuela/UK), Hamsini Shivakumar (India), Ximena Tobi (Argentina), and the series’ other perspicacious contributors.


Other 2021 series at Semiovox.com include: CODE-X, OBJECT ORIENTED, and THE WOLERY. (The latter two were cross-posted from HILOBROW.)


Cover designed & illustrated by Seth

The first four titles in the RADIUM AGE series of reissued proto-sf (c. 1900–1935) narratives, a brand-new MIT Press publishing project that I’m heading up, will appear in Spring 2022. During 2021, I worked with the MITP team on copy-editing and proofing, not to mention finalizing the covers illustrated and designed by Seth.

Here’s the Spring 2022 lineup:

  • Voices from the Radium Age, a collection of proto-sf stories selected and introduced by Josh Glenn (March 8). “For early SF buffs, this will be a substantial delight.” — Publisher’s Weekly
  • J.D. Beresford’s 1913 proto-sf novel A World of Women, with an introduction by Astra Taylor (March 8). “Speaks as urgently to the world today as to that of 100 years ago in its insistence that crisis must also be recognized as opportunity — to change our society, not to restore it.” — Sherryl Vint
  • E.V. Odle’s 1923 proto-sf novel The Clockwork Man, with an introduction by Annalee Newitz (May 3). “A missing link between Lewis Carroll and John Sladek or Philip K. Dick.” — Jonathan Lethem
  • H.G. Wells’s 1914 proto-sf novel The World Set Free, with an introduction by Sarah Cole and an afterword by Josh Glenn (May 3). “A crucial, stand-out novel in Wells’s amazing effort, and it’s good to see it in a new edition.” — Kim Stanley Robinson

On March 15, Annalee Newitz and I will talk about the series in a virtual event hosted by Chicago’s independent bookseller Madison Street Books.

For more info about MIT Press’s RADIUM AGE series, and to see Seth’s amazing cover art and design for the first seven titles, click here.


Among the posts I wrote for HILOBROW during 2021 are:

  • INTRODUCTION to the cartoon-celebrating series FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (January)
  • SPEED RACER, an installment in FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (February)
  • OWL, an installment in Matthew Battles’s BESTIARY series (March)
  • INTRODUCTION to the Sixties TV series FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (April)
  • INTRODUCTION to the SEMIO OBJECTS series (April)
  • BATMAN, an installment in the FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (May)
  • LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE, an installment in Adam McGovern’s SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (August)
  • BEAVER, a three-part installment in Matthew Battles’s BESTIARY series (August–September)
  • ARDUIN, an installment in Peggy Nelson’s NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (October)
  • K-TEL TRUCKER TAPE, an installment in Adam McGovern’s PROJECT:OBJECTIONABLE series (November)

At the invitation of Writer’s Digest, in September I dashed off a short piece on “5 Thrilling Adventure Terms Every Writer Should Know (And Why).”

I wrote an Afterword for an edition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Radium Age sf adventures The Lost World and The Poison Belt, which MIT Press will publish in Spring 2023.

And for one hour (almost) every weekday during 2021, I convened with three of my favorite writers in a virtual environment known as THE SPACE, where we each toiled away at our own long-form projects.


This year, I helped organize a series of monthly online “sessions” convening my fellow commercial semioticians from around the world — as a means not only to surface and disseminate the best of applied semiotic thinking but also to strengthen our professional community’s ties of friendship and caring during an isolating and divisive moment.

Here’s the 2021 SEMIOFEST SESSIONS lineup:

  • SEMIOTIC SQUARE: In April, the Moscow-based semiotician Masha Papanthymou and I discussed the uses of the so-called “semiotic square” in our practices — before inviting the attendees to share their own ideas.
  • ASK THE SEMIOTICIAN: In May, Luca Marchetti (Italy/France), Gabriela Pedranti (Spain/LatAm), Charles Leech (Canada), and Vladimir Djurovic (China) responded to queries about client management, demonstrating the validity of semiotics, and more.
  • COVID CODES: In June, Sónia Marques (Portugal), Seema Khanwalkar (India), Maciej Biedziński (Poland), Ximena Tobi (Argentina), and Wei Fen Lee (Singapore) spoke about their culture-specific contributions to Semiovox’s global COVID CODES study.
  • R/D/E: In July, Al Deakin, Natasha Delliston, and Malcolm Evans discussed new and improved ways for semiotic practitioners to deploy the Residual-Dominant-Emergent (RDE) framework.
  • FUTURING: In August, Tim Stock, Gemma Jones, Malex Salamanques, and Hamsini Shivakumar shared their experiences in leveraging non-semiotic methodologies to help clients catch a glimpse of what the future might hold… and also to help shape that future.
  • BINARIES: In September, Thierry Mortier, Nick Gadsby, and Chris Arning shared their perspectives on the Saussurian notion that binary opposition is the means by which individual elements of a “semiosphere” have meaning.
  • THE HIGHS & LOWS OF SEMIOTIC PRACTICE: In October, we dedicated a session to discussions of the following questions: How did you find your way to doing semiotics? What major challenge(s) do you struggle with as a semiotician? What advice would you give to young person about the highs and lows of an applied semiotics practice?
  • THINKING WITH OBJECTS: In November, Sónia Marques (Portugal), Lucia Laurent-Neva (UK), and I shared our approaches to analyzing objects in order to reveal hidden aspects of social reality.
  • THEORISTS IN PRACTICE: C.S. PEIRCE: In December, Mariane Cara (Brazil), Chris Barnham (UK), and Hamsini Shivakumar (India) shared examples of how they’ve applied the pioneering US semiotician C.S. Peirce’s frameworks in their own practices.

As of January, I’ve stepped down from my role as the Sessions’ co-convener. But I hope to return…. I’m grateful to Semiofest board members Hamsini Shivakumar, Lucia Laurent-Neva, and Chris Arning for inviting me to play a role. Follow Semiofest on LinkedIn for updates.


Josh (left) and Rob hard at work.

In April, Hat & Beard Press will publish LOST OBJECTS, a book version of PROJECT:OBJECT’s series of that title (first published here at HILOBROW). Rob Walker and I are the book’s editors. The book’s design is by my frequent collaborators at Leone Design Associates.

There are nearly 100 talented writer and/or artist contributors, including in no particular order: Geoff Manaugh | Theo Ellsworth | Laura Lippman | Ben Katchor | Neil LaBute | Miranda Mellis | Adam Goldberg | Chris Piascik | Anita Kunz | Matt Wuerker | Lydia Millet | Berta Valló | Ben Greenman | Clara Selina Bach | Leah Hennessey | Dean Haspiel | Kathryn Davis | Charles Glaubitz | Seth | Mark Dery | Paola Antonelli | Margaret Wertheim | Armando Veve | Allison Bamcat | Lucy Sante | Kate Bingaman-Burt | Nina Katchadourian | Matthew Sharpe | Amanda Clarke | Gary Panter | Amy Thielen | Oliver Munday | Rick Pinchera | Joe Alterio | Chelsey Johnson | Rubi McGrory | Susannah Breslin | Seth Mnookin | Linzie Hunter. Debbie Millman has contributed an introduction; and Rob and I have written a semi-scholarly appendix.

So many moving parts! Just getting all the release forms signed nearly did us in. But during 2021, we were able to get this complex project nearly completed; we’ll go to press in January. Rob and I are grateful to the Leone Design team, to Hat & Beard Press’s JC Gabel and Sybil Perez, and to Susan Roe for the clutch administrative assistance.

PS: We are planning a series of limited-edition LOST OBJECTS posters — half of the proceeds from which will go to the authors and artists involved.


During 4Q2021, I published a preliminary list of HADRON AGE SF titles — science fiction adventures, that is, from 2004–2023. This marks the beginning of a second phase in my BEST ADVENTURES PROJECT, via which over the past several years I’ve identified my 10 favorite adventures from each year of the 20th century. In 2022–2023, I’ll be doing a lot of reading in an effort to identify my favorite 2004–2023 sf novels.

Speaking of BEST ADVENTURES, during 1Q2021 I wrapped up the twentieth-century phase of the project with the publication of my list of the 100 Best Adventures of the Nineties (1994–2003), as well as a meta-list of the 250 Best Adventures of the 20th Century. I’m grateful to Fortune magazine for suggesting that reading one’s way through this list may help us survive the epidemic.


I continue to manage daily operations at GO WEST, the coworking space that I co-founded in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood. It’s a pleasure to share this space (safely) with small businesses, remote workers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and NGOs including Archipelago Strategies Group, Leone Design Associates, Performant Software, Uncut Lab, Modern Renaissance Legal, among others.


A few of my projects popped up on the radar during 2021. For example:

  • In July, I shared a few of my desktop containers with the What’s in my…? newsletter.
  • Writing for JSTOR Daily in August Ashawnta Jackson touted a conspiracy theory that I concocted for my friends at The Baffler 20 years ago.
  • Also in August, Douglas Wolk’s Doctor Doom-centric Voice of Latveria podcast aired an episode — No. 26: “…Though Some Call It Magic!” — in which I explain why the Doom story in 1971’s Astonishing Tales #8 is my favorite.
  • In September, I made a guest appearance on the leftist global politics podcast Aufhebunga Bunga, talking about the problem of generations.
  • Rob Walker and I show up once or twice — talking about our Significant Objects experiment — in Vin Liota’s new documentary Objects. The film’s world premiere was at DOC NYC on November 14.


On to 2022…

MORE HYPOCRISY: 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021 | 2022 | 2023 | 1Q2024 | 2Q2024 | 3Q2024.


About Josh, Idleness