Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The emergence of Gambit

Not too long ago I wrote about some of the imaginative and not so imaginative superhero names to have appeared in comic books, graphic novels and blockbuster movies recently. Not to get obsessive, but this subject is yet again relevant, with the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine this week.

While a number of the X-Men heroes were discussed in my previous blog, one of the better-known characters had yet to be depicted on the big screen. Remy LeBeau, aka Gambit, is a comic-fan favourite and will be debuting in Wolverine this week. Gambit has the ability to manipulate the kinetic energy of objects, exhibits a hypnotic charm, possesses superhuman agility and dexterity, and carries a pack of playing cards as his weapon of choice. He also has a great name.

The word gambit can be used generally to refer to trickery or stratagem (another fantastic word), and is clearly fitting to describe a superhero who carries playing cards wherever he goes. Specifically, the word is applied to chess to describe a move in which a player sacrifices one piece early in their game in order to gain an overall advantage. Such a risky move may seem to be quite a gamble, and it would be logical to imagine that with this semantic similarity and initial 'gamb' in common, gambit and gamble may be etymologically related. Yet while gamble is a form of game, deriving from the Danish gammen, gambit can be traced back to Italian gambetto, meaning a tripping up, from gamba, leg. Of course, exactly who is tripping who depends on the strength and cunning of the gambit itself.

A similar etymology to gambit can be found in the rather jolly gambol, meaning to jump around playfully, which also derived from the Italian gamba, and suggests exactly how I will be frolicking to the cinema this weekend.

Deborah Smith

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