A labyrinthine search for the meaning of “rhadamanthine”: from a condo elevator to Ranger Gord’s Campfire Stories

Greek god Rhadamanthys

Rhadamanthys, a Greek god who was judge of the Underworld.

It’s pretty amazing how far I’ll go in my quest to understand and explain words that, to me, are new and cool.

It turns out that “rhadamanthine” is actually a very old word, since it’s the adjective form of Rhadamanthys (or Rhadamanthus), a character from Greek mythology.

But I didn’t know that as I descended the elevator in my condo building early yesterday morning. The screen that everyone stares at as they’re coping with the embarrassing silence during long elevator rides was not on its sports, news, currency exchange, weather, or ads pages. Instead, it was showing the rarer “Word of the Day” screen, and the word “rhadamanthine” jumped out at me because I had never seen it before. Tantalizingly, I had time to skim the definition but not commit it to (middle-aged) memory before the door opened at ground level and I had to leave the elevator.

I tried to read the definition again on all my elevator trips that day, but the screen was always flashing news or ads. I then turned to my trusty Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which told me about Rhadamanthys but didn’t define the adjective derived from it. Next, I went online to dictionary.com. This source was thorough in its definition of Rhadamanthys:

1. Classical Mythology. A son of Zeus and Europa, rewarded for the justice he exemplified on Earth by being made, after his death, a judge in the Underworld, where he served with his brothers Minos and Aeacus.
2. An inflexibly just or severe judge.

Though it listed the adjective “rhadamanthine”, it didn’t give me a definition. Instead, it supplied links to places where the word was used. Thus it was that I had the unexpected pleasure of travelling back in time to a July 2006 blog post on Ranger Gord’s Campfire Stories.

There, I found the definition I was seeking. Rhadamanthine means “strictly and uncomprisingly just”. (According to Ranger Gord, he found this definition on dictionary.com—why wasn’t it there for me?)

But please don’t stop here! You’ve simply got to read “Introducing Ranger Gord’s Radamanthine Citations” post yourself. Ranger Gord explains the origins of rhadamanthine in scholarly detail, but the humour of the post comes from the juxtaposition of his own writing with some crude paragraphs he includes in the words of a park user who has violated the requirement to have a fishing license. The violator is extremely profane, can’t spell, and has a bad attitude, but he just can’t help being funny. I love his last sentence:

what the fuck has this world come to? what happened to the days where you walked around with a loin cloth on, and ate peyote?

Just read it.

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