A Person Who Wanders City Streets -- There's an Old, Forgotten Word for That

Did you know that there's an old and forgotten word for "a person who wanders city streets"? That word is vicambulist.

I came across the word while reading The Way the World Works, a book of essays by Nicholson Baker. And since learning of it, vicambulist has become my new favorite word -- and not just because it's an uncommon term and with a good mouthfeel. I like it because it directly applies to me. I love to wander aimlessly through cities, and since learning of it, I've been reminiscing about the time I spent in London, England, my junior year of college.

It was the winter/spring of 1993 and I was participating in my college's study abroad program. England is an expensive place and being there for the entire semester severely strained my resources. To put it in non-euphemistic terms, I was broke. I'm talking not sure I had enough money to eat every day of the month broke. So, for entertainment, and to escape my flat where I lived with my friend Christian and three strangers, I went for walks. Very long walks. Every day. It was a wonderful time of my life and I learned a lot about the city and myself. But I digress ....

To say vicambulist is a lexicographical deep cut is something of an understatement. The word does not appear in any of my dictionaries or thesauri, including the Dictionary of Uncommon Words; Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, or Preposterous Words; The Highly Selective Dictionary for Extraordinarily Literate, or the Thinker's Thesaurus. The closest any of these books have to it is flaneur, meaning "an idle man-about town" or "one who strolls through city streets idly or aimlessly."

The word is also absent from the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which is strange because the essay of Baker's that contains the word is about Ammon Shea, the man who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary, one volume after the other.

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