Origin of the term “adventurer”

When I write, I spend a lot of time cross-referencing the subtler meanings of words. Mostly with the Macbook’s dictionary/thesaurus function, which gives a nice rundown of a word’s linguistic and social origins. Sometimes a word’s connotations surprise me — like when I found that adventurer can be a term of disapproval.

Adventurer comes from the French term adventurier, meaning “venture upon”. It originally meant “gambler”, but became associated with mercenary soldiers, swashbucklers and all manner of wandering rogues who got into shady situations.


Nowadays, when we think of adventure, we tend to think of some rousing quest with a positive motivation. We think of going out, seeing the world and having an exhilarating experience. Maybe an experience that changes you for the better. Adventure is the term that’s supposed to entice you toward a book or a video game — because why wouldn’t we want to hang out with an adventurous person? They’re the cool ones.


Does this mean we English-speakers are more open-minded than we used to be? Maybe less concerned with keeping our heads down and not causing a scene? Maybe less afraid of the unconventional? Or maybe travel is just less dangerous than it used to be in colonial times. The shady gambling aspect of adventure isn’t so strong in a world where casual tourists can hop on a plane and take a guided tour of another country. Maybe we miss the glamorous aspect of risking one’s life to break new ground — although centuries ago, travel certainly wasn’t a glamorous process for the people partaking in it. We just like to imagine it that way.


I can’t imagine disapproving of adventurers. But then, I’m always looking for the next unusual thing to get my fingerprints all over, so of course I think we should take chances and see new sights. It’s good to know where the term adventurer came from, even if it’s like finding old skeletons.


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The worldbuilding of my favourite game series, Pikmin (heidicvlach.com)

Flying characters in fantasy and sci-fi (heidicvlach.com)

4 Comments on “Origin of the term “adventurer””

  1. I think we became so enamored with the romantic notion of adventures that we began using misadventures to show they can sometimes be bad. I wonder if a misadventurer will ever become a thing.

  2. This is possibly because wandering folk weren’t trusted; they weren’t people that you grew up knowing, and so you were uncertain of them and their motives. Because you don’t know them like the back of your hand, distrust was the default setting.

    As people became more mobile, moving about wasn’t such a problem, as more people did it and it wasn’t necessarily a break with your existing connections. So there’s the idea of connections being maintained and therefore an implied trust still being possible, where it wouldn’t have been before.

    Interestingly, the distrust of strangers and travellers may not happen in a world where frequent travel is easy (whether by magic, flight or another means), so our modern perspective on adventuring isn’t quite so out of place after all.

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