Ever since the first role-playing game was published in 1974, characters in the games have typically had quite an odd lifestyle and a strange set of motivations. The game rules often describe them as adventurers who go adventuring. They’re essentially violent homeless vagrants, or murderhobos. I got to thinking about what an adventurer is in the real world, today.

  • Professional mountaineer / polar explorer / extreme sportsperson
  • Backpacker
  • Hiker (not really, as few people hike for more than a week)

And in past definitions of the word:

  • Gambler
  • Financial speculator
  • Mercenary soldier

The word adventurer is more than four times as common in English writing from around 1800 as in current writing. This is clearly because of the change in the word’s sense. Like in 1800, we certainly still talk a lot about financial speculators and not a little about mercenary soldiers. But we have very few professional mountaineers, and most current writing is not about Dungeons & Dragons.

The German Abenteurer means today what its English cognate means. Peaking in use during WW2, it has not seen any dramatic change in frequency since 1800. The French aventurier has never been a common word but is no less common today than in 1800. It now means “an unscrupulous person who resorts to intrigue, breach of trust, dishonest speculation and violence to achieve notoriety, fortune, power, etc.” Entertainingly, Larousse glosses it as a synonym of captain of industry and schemer!

The Swedish historical dictionary SAOB says nothing about our word äventyrare yet, because Ä is the penultimate letter in our alphabet.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

10 thoughts on “Adventurers”

  1. ‘ The French aventurier has never been a common word but is no less common today than in 1800. It now means “an unscrupulous person… ” ‘

    The only cases I can think of of “aventurier” used in the heroic sense is in fictions.
    “Bob Morane l’Aventurier”is a very famous and non-controversial song by a French singer who is more known for his slightly controversial/titillating songs (by the 80’s metrics).

    The word has lost a lot of its bite nowadays, “aventurier” as scoundrel is very antiquated. I think. No less common today? I would not have guessed… I wonder if the word stays common precisely because of its use in relation to heroic fictitious characters.
    Nonetheless, never call a French lady an “aventurière”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Speculative merchants travelling to distant lands and hoping to get rich were often called adventurers or venturers. The boundaries between them and pirates were often hard to define (16th century English venturers often arrived outside a port and announced that they were going to bombard it unless the locals bought their wares; Roman merchants and moneylenders started to gather in a country before Roman armies arrived).

    The word was gendered: a Conan Doyle character calls Irene Adler an adventuress, and I think the audience is supposed to imagine Lola Montez not Cecil Rhodes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In “Palm Beach Story”, Joel McCrea, the male lead, says that he wants to be an adventurer crossing the Atlantic in a 20 foot boat. Claudette Colbert, playing his wife, replies that an adventuress never sets foot on anything less than 100 foot. The term adventuress refers to a woman who, as the OED puts it, is on the lookout for a position, possibly as the wife of someone with a 100 foot yacht.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There are still venture capitalists. If they finance advertisement-based ventures, does that make them adventure capitalists?

      Liked by 2 people

    1. “Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.”


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