This is the fourth and final post excerpting The Adventurer's Glossary, a word-nerd exploration of the theory and practice of all sorts of adventure by my old friend and frequent Boing Boing contributor Josh Glenn. It's his third collaboration with the philosopher Mark Kingwell (who contributes a rousing yet erudite introduction) and the incredible cartoonist Seth.
Here are five sample entries from the glossary's "M" section:
A MacGuffin is "the mechanical element that usually crops up in any [adventure] story," Alfred Hitchcock explained about his 1935 film The 39 Steps. "In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers." Like a game, an adventure story has "mechanics" — rules and procedures that define the player's objective and create satisfying challenges — some of which are more obviously artificial than others. PS: Postmodern adventures, like Pynchon's V. or Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, often feature obtrusively meaningless MacGuffins.
MAKE ONE'S BONES
The gangster argot phrase make one's bones was popularized in Mario Puzo's The Godfather and its 1972 movie adaptation. ("Sonofabitch! Do you know who I am? I'm Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!") It means "commit a murder in order to be respected in a gang" and, in less violent contexts, "earn respect the hard way."
During the German occupation of France in 1940–45, men and women who escaped into the mountains to avoid providing forced labour organized themselves into active resistance groups. The mountain terrain was covered with a scrub growth called maquis, so these guerrilla bands soon became known as the Maquis or maquisards. The term was soon extended to movements in Italy, Belgium, and other occupied countries regardless of what sort of plant life was found there.
See: GUERRILLA, RESISTANCE
One of the first mass-produced soft drinks in America was manufactured in Bedford, N.H., in the 1880s; originally, it was a patent medicine marketed as a cure-all for modern life's complaints, from low energy to feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps this explains why the product's name, Moxie, in the 1930s came to mean "the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage" – and by extension, "vigour" and "initiative."
Captain Ed Murphy, an engineer who conducted experimental crash research testing at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, reportedly said something along the lines of "If anything can go wrong, it will." Although he was far from the first to express this notion, Murphy's cautionary pronunciamento was popularized – at first particularly among aviation engineers, then more widely – and called, ironically, Murphy's Law. In Great Britain, Sod's law, no doubt derived from the commiserating phrase "unlucky sod," expresses more or less the same idea.
Here are five sample entries from the glossary's "R" section:
The eighteenth-century slang term raffish means "disreputable-looking, showing a lack of regard for conventional behaviour, appearance, or style." It is derived from the British colloquialism raff (odds and ends) and ultimately from the French slang phrase rif et raf (one and all, every single bit). A castaway like Robinson Crusoe, who wears whatever garments he can salvage, is raffish; so is a bohemian who wears nothing but thrifted or upcycled clothing.
Since 1939, organized, covert opposition to an invading, occupying power has been known as resistance – from the Latin resistere (make a stand against, oppose). Notable resistance movements across German-occupied Europe during WWII included not only the French Resistance but the Polish Resistance, Soviet partisans, and others. In the final episode of the 1967–68 British sci-fi TV show The Prisoner, the titular prisoner Number Six (portrayed by Patrick McGoohan, who created the show) is lauded for having fought a "private war" against neo-Foucauldian forces of coercion: "He has revolted. Resisted. Fought. Held fast."
Borrowed, via French, from the Vulgar Latin resicum (nautical hazard), which may itself be a borrowing from Arabic, to risk means "run into danger." Figuratively, the term has come to mean "expose oneself to the possibility of loss, injury, or other adverse circumstance." Fun fact: The strategy board game Risk, invented by Albert Lamorisse around the time he was directing The Red Balloon (1956), was inspired by the tabletop war games used by military strategists.
A robinsonade is an adventure story relying on one or more of the tropes first popularized by Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. The protagonist of a robinsonade finds herself required to exercise shrewd practicality in rebuilding her life from scratch, using the materials she finds close at hand; in doing so, she discovers the rewards of meaningful work and self-sufficiency. Fun fact: In Rousseau's 1762 educational treatise Emile, the only book that the young student Emile is allowed to read before the age of twelve is Robinson Crusoe.
The fourteenth-century Japanese term ronin, which refers to a wandering samurai without a home or master – that is, one forced to make a living dishonourably, e.g., as a bodyguard, bandit, assassin, or mercenary soldier – literally means "wave-person." Figuratively speaking, the ronin ceaselessly comes and goes like an ocean's wave; that is to say, they have no fixed place of abode. Movies like Mizoguchi's The 47 Ronin (1941), Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), and Kobayashi's Harakiri (1962) popularized the ronin as a knight errant figure.
See: KNIGHT ERRANT, SAMURAI
And 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.
WIND (IN THE)
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.
See: ASTUTE, INTELLIGENCE
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.