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
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
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
In addition to those that appear elsewhere in this Edgardemain
feature, here are a few other passages that I thought were worthy of singling
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."
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
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." Chapter 6
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 Andrews.)
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!" chapter 11
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