ERB's Fun with Words
Edgar Rice Burroughs liked to throw in an unusual word now and then,
a practice that has helped many a reader to increase his or her vocabulary.
Here are some of the less-common words that show up in the Venus series:
Individous -- Before taking off in his rocket from earth, Carson
had a conversation with his friend, Jimmy Welch. "He was grateful, of course,
but still he could not hide his disappointment in not being allowed to
accompany me, which was evidenced by an indivious comparison he drew between
the ceiling of the Sikorsky and that of the old crate, as he had affectionately
dubbed the great torpedo-like rocket that was to bear me out into space
in a few hours."
"Indivious" means "to create ill will or resentment, or give offense,
hateful; offensively or unfairly discriminating; injurious." Since Jimmy
Welch was a good friend of Carson, perhaps "indivious" was too strong of
a word to use here. But at least Carson softened the term by saying he
said it with affection!
Contretemps -- In the opening paragraph of Pirates of Venus,
Chapter 12, ERB uses the word "contretemps"—twice. Carson had just realized
that Duare, the janjong (princess) of Vepaja, was the same girl he had
tried to romance back in Vepaja. He said: "What a strange contretemps!
Its suddenness left me temporarily speechless; the embarrassment of Duare
was only too obvious. Yet it was that unusual paradox, a happy contretemps—for
me at least."
"Contretemps" is "an inopportune occurrence; an embarrassing mischance:
He caused a minor contretemps by knocking over his drink." Or, "An unforeseen
event that disrupts the normal course of things; an inopportune occurrence."
It can also refer to a blunder in fencing, an occurrence with which
Carson was somewhat familiar.
Haut ton -- In Chapter 12 of Pirates, Car-son led a successful
mutiny to take over the Sofal, not only to escape from being a prisoner,
but to use the ship to stage raids on Vepaja's enemies. He said, "We were
outlaws, we of the Sofal -- pirates, buccaneers, privateers.... Buccaneer
has a devil-may-care ring to it that appeals to my fancy; it has a trifle
more haut ton than pirate."
Today, one might have few occasions to come across that French phrase
unless one is a reader of Regency romance novels, which, according to likesbooks.com,
use a lot of "weird language." On the website, Diane Farr writes:
"What is the ton? Or the haut ton? The
latter has survived (sort of) to the present day, translated from the French
to the English, in our expression "high-toned." the ton is a set of persons
who are rich, well-born, and fashionable. In order to be a member of the
ton, you must be all three. A duke's daughter who spends her days puttering
about in a Sussex garden is not a member of the ton, despite her birth
and money. And a wealthy mer-chant can dress the part and act the part,
but he will never succeed in crashing the gates."
It sounds as if calling himself a "buccaneer" would not really give Carson
much "haut ton."
Filip -- Is this a word or a typographical error? In Chapter
14 of Pirates, with Carson at the mercy of the sea, the first edition
book says, "The sea gave me a final filip that rolled me high upon the
sands to mingle with the wrack and flotsam that she had discarded."
What is a filip? The dictionary yielded no results. So maybe Carson
meant that the sea gave him a flip. There is, however, a word with two
L's: fillip. The definition is "to strike with the nail of a finger
snapped from the end of the thumb," "to tap or strike smartly," or, as
a noun, anything that tends to rouse, excite, or revive; a stimulus. Praise
is an excellent fillip for waning ambition."
It could have been that ERB meant "fil-lip" as it would be a figurative
use of the term in his context. Either "filip" was an accepted alternate
spelling for "fillip," or a spelling error was made, but whether the typographers
misspelled "flip" or "fillip," we don't know!
It's interesting to see how other editions word it. In the first Ace
paperback, it's exactly as it is in the first edition, but in the more
recent Del-Rey paperback, the editors decided ERB must have meant "fillip."
I would think the University of Nebraska Bi-son Press editors would set
a standard for accuracy. And theirs reads: "flip."
The old Dover Press trade paperback, published in 1963, credits the
text to the original Argosy Weekly serial, and avoids the problem
completely. Its wording: "The sea finally rolled me high upon the sands...."
Flip? Filip? fillip? Take your pick!
Mal de mer -- shows up in Lost on Venus, Chapter 3, when
Carson and Duare were captured by the cannibalistic kloonobar-gan. "they
bare their teeth in a grimace and emit a sound that is for all the world
like the retching of mal de mer, and there is no laughter in their eyes.
It took quite a stretch of my imagination to identify this as laughter."
"Mal de mer" is another French word, and it means "seasickness."
Temerarious -- ERB liked the word "temerarious" so well that
he used it three times, adding a "-ness" in The Wizard of Venus.
"Temerarious" means reckless or rash, which is certainly a good word to
be applied to the behavior of Carson Napier.
Its first appearance is in Carson of Venus. Without the anotar,
Carson was near the start of a long boat trip with Zani refugees Zerka
and Mantor aboard (Chapter 16).
ERB wrote: "In the evening of the third day, the storm suddenly abated;
and, though the seas were still running high, we put out from our little
harbor and set our course once more for Sanara. Perhaps it was a foolhardy
thing to do, but the enforced delay and my anxiety to reach Sanara and
be reunited with Duare had rendered me temerarious."
In Escape on Venus, Chapter 2, as Jantor, the jong of Japal,
strode into a dangerous situation, Carson said: "I couldn't help but have
a great deal of respect for Jantor. He was doing a very courageous, albeit,
a very temerarious, thing. I watched him as he walked toward his enemies.
His step was firm, his head high. He was every inch a jong."
In Chapter 1 of Wizard, Carson said: "It seems to me that I always
plan intelligently, sometimes over meticulously; and then up jumps the
Devil and everything goes haywire. However, in all fairness, I must admit
that it is usually my fault and attributable to a definite temerariousness
which is charcteristic of me."
Ballochute -- In chapter 2 of Wizard, Carson was describing
a new-fangled parachute he had designed which combined the properties of
an airborne balloon, which would allow the chutist to remain airborne for
awhile. He called it a "ballochute." You won't find this one in a dictionary
because the word was one of Carson (or ERB's) invention, and not to be
found in standard references.
Fredrik Ekman, writing in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Summary Project at
erblist.com, has made it clear that the term "ballochute" is a combination
of the words "balloon" and "parachute."
The Born Writer
Edgar Rice Burroughs is always good for some classy, clever, comedic
or cutting creative writing, and he delivers during the Venus series.
In addition to those that appear elsewhere in this Edgardemain feature,
here are a few other passages that I thought were worthy of singling out:
From Pirates of Venus:
"I knew that I had ample room in which to wander, since science has
calculated the diameter of space to be eighty-four mil-lion light years,
which, when one reflects that light travels at the rate of one hundred
eighty-six thousand miles a second, should satisfy the wanderlust of the
most inveterate roamer." Chapter 1
"I had aimed at Mars and was about to hit Venus; unquestionably the
all-time cosmic record for poor shots." Chapter 2
On musing about the fact the night noises often multiply themselves
in a most disconcerting way: "I have heard coyotes yapping and screaming
around my camp on Arizona nights when, but for the actual knowledge that
there were but one or two of them, I could have sworn that there were a
hundred, had I trusted only to my sense of hearing." Chapter 3
When brought up from the hold of the Sofal, a prisoner, to work on the
ship, and marveling at the scenery: "I had not been ordered above for the
purpose of satisfying the aesthetic longings of my soul." Chapter 8
Adrift in a storm on an Amtorian ocean: "I was carried on; moments seemed
an eternity! Where were the rocks? I almost yearned for them now to end
the bitterness of my futile struggle. I thought of my mother and of Duare.
I even contemplated, with something akin to philosophic calm, the strangeness
of my end. In that other world that I had left forever no creature would
ever have knowledge of my fate. Thus spoke the eternal egotism of man,
who, even in death, desires an audience." Chapter 14
From Lost on Venus:
Commenting to Duare while attempting to make fire: "It's like golf.
Most people never learn to play it, but very few give up trying. I shall
probably continue my search for fire until death overtakes me, or Prometheus
descends to Venus as he did to earth."
"What is golf and who is Prometheus?" demanded Duare.
"Golf is a mental disorder and Prometheus a fable." Chapter 2
Following the fight of the tharban and the basto: "Neither of these
mighty engines of destruction turned upon us; neither moved. Except for
a few convulsive shudders they lay still in death. And thus Death saved
us from death." Chapter 5
"There were flowers and leaves of colors that have no name, colors such
as no earthly eye ever had seen before.
"Such things bear in upon me the strange isolation of our senses. each
sense lives in a world of its own, and though it lives a lifetime with
its felllow senses, it knows nothing of their world.
"My eyes see a color; but my fingers, my ears, my nose, my palate may
never know that color. I cannot even describe it so that any of your senses
may perceive it as I perceive it, if it is a new color that you have never
seen. Even less well might I describe an odor or a flavor or the feel of
some strange substance. Only by comparison might I make you see the landscape
that stretched before our eyes, and there is nothing in your world with
which I may compare it -- the glowing fog bank overhead, the pale, soft
pastels of field and forest and distant misty mountings -- no dense shadows
and no high lights -- strange and beautiful and weird -- intriguing, provocative,
compelling, always beckoning one on to further investigation, to new adventure."
As Carson and Duare contemplate the best way to get away from a threatening
beast: "I think the best course for us to follow is to continue steadily
toward the forest without seeming haste. If the thing does not increase
its speed, we shall reach the trees ahead of it; if we run for it, the
chances are that it will overtake us, for of all created things man seems
to be about the slowest." Chapter 6
From Carson of Venus:
While attempting to escape from the woman-dominated tribe of the Houtamis:
"Right then I would have given a lot for a rear-sight mirror, for I wanted
to see what was going on behind us, but didn't dare look back for fear
of suggesting that we were doing something that we shouldn't be -- it was
a case of nonchalance or nothing, and not a cigarette of any brand among
us." Chapter 3
After escaping and enjoying a good meal: "Once again we were happy and
contented. Our recent troubles now seemed very remote, so quickly does
the spirit of man rebound from depression and push black despair into the
limbo of forgetfulness." Chapter 4
From Escape on Venus
"One of the great anthropologists of my world, who leads expeditions
to remote corners of the Earth, and never has any adventures, says that
having them is an indication of inefficiency and stupidity." Chapter 2
(The anthropologist in question is not identified in Escape, but a similar
statement is found in Wizard, Chapter 1, and is credited there to Roy Chapman
Carson to Kandar, who disparaged the so-called culture of the Myposan
fish people: "We have had peoples like that in my own world, led by such
men as Genghis Kahn and Attila the Hun, who wrecked the culture and civilization
of their times and set the world back many centuries; and I suppose we
shall have others."
"And what happened after them?" asked Kandar.
"Civilization struggled slowly from the mire into which they had plunged
it, as I suppose it always will struggle back after each such catastrophe;
but to what glorious heights it might have attained had they never lived!"
Carson, commenting on the fact that his latest captors, the Brokols,
don't do any unnecessary gabbing: "I am always amazed, if not always amused,
by the burst of feminine gabble which follows the lowering of a theater
curtain for an intermission. There can't be that much important conversation
in a lifetime." Chapter 24
From The Wizard of Venus
Carson, on entering the forbidden garden in Morgas's castle to search
for Vanaja: "Its walks were laid out in a maze-like confusion, and I had
gone only a short distance along them when I realized that I might have
difficulty in finding my way out again; yet I ventured on, though I had
no Ariadne to give me a clew of thread to guide me from the labyrinth.
The only goddess upon whom I might rely was Lady Luck." Chapter 7