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What is a “Penubra”?

These mugs are now sold out, but more will be available soon. Shop for other Alpinist swag and back issues at

For months, our associate publisher Paul Davis hunted for the perfect enamel mug to order custom with an Alpinist design. Most of the mugs he found were too light and flimsy or else had those white speckles that just don’t jibe with our magazine’s clean design. Eventually, Paul found a manufacturer in Poland, waded through the associated language barrier and time change, and worked with an editorial staff member to come up with a design. On one side of each mug, we listed some of our favorite spine copy (the words at the bottom of each Alpinist issue’s spine) from over the years: “Beyond Prudence,” “Only the Why Remains,” “No One Suspects a Canadian Passport….”

The shipment came in, and the mugs looked great–the best piece of Alpinist swag we’d ever made–until we found out we’d made a typo in one of the lines of spine copy! “Penumbra”–“a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light” (Merriam-Webster)–is misspelled as “penubra.”

We wallowed in our disappointment for a bit and then thought up a challenge for our Facebook community: come up with your own, invented definition of “penubra!” We offered the last available enamelware mug (the rest sold out quickly) to the person who came up with the best one.

We received over forty responses and have now chosen the winner:

If you head to the old medical library stacks at the University of Toronto…take the stairs down to level Sub-4 and make your way to the southeast corner. On the second shelf from the top you will find an old journal titled, “Background Information on the Evolved Brain.” On Page 217 you will find a short description from Dr. von Schneiser about a part of the brain which causes one to seek out ‘Type I fun,’ but secretly crave ‘Type II fun.’ The Doctor names this small part of the brain (“located between the part of the brain that makes us all love Baileys in our hot chocolate, and the part of the brain that makes it difficult to get out of bed when the temperature outside dips below -30C,”) the “Penubra.”

Penubra (n.) The part of the brain that causes one to seek Type I fun but secretly crave Type II fun.–Tom B.

We had an oddly high number of entries along the lines of this, the People’s Choice:

An item of lingerie for the discerning gent. Designed to give the ‘wee fella’ a reassuring lift in colder climes.

Here are a few other favorites:

The torturous period between suspicion of an irreparable mistake and the inevitable confirmation.

1. The act of seeking out and deliberately placing one’s body inside of a sunspot. 2. Laying, napping or sitting in a spot of light surrounded on all four sides by shade.

French for a sort of grace that is only attained when one feels that one will likely die if the required move is not done to perfection.

A space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) cast by a nudist.

The art of developing definitions for misspelled words.

Thank you to everyone who joined in the fun with us! Keep an eye on our online store for a new batch of (typo-free) Alpinist mugs.