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The Burning Wheel has a character Trait called "He's a Jonah, that one" (BWG p.329). Like many character Traits in BW it has no further description. So what is the trait supposed to mean?

A general online search yielded either a cool dude or the biblical prophet Jonah / bringer of bad luck for just the name Jonah and nothing for the whole phrase.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As a side note, I would not consider Urban Dictionary to be reliable by any stretch of the imagination. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Dec 16 '16 at 3:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon I think it is useful to get a general idea about some more obscure slang. But only if there are many similar answers. And of course even then it is to be taken with a truckload of salt. That's why I quickly disregarded the results from UD in my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Zalktis Dec 16 '16 at 12:29
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The answer is straightforward and you found it yourself: it means a person who brings bad luck (usually to a ship). It comes from the biblical story and is an old sailor expression/superstition.

The flowery title of the trait is just a dialog example of how a NPC sailor might accuse someone of being bad luck in-game.

There's a famous movie scene about a sailor constantly accused of being a Jonah. Spoiler alert if you have never watched Master & Commander.

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A good idea with BW character Traits is to look, which Lifepaths have them as Lifepath Traits. The Lifepath Crazy Old Sailor has that Trait as a LP Trait alongside Superstitious and Metal Plate in the Skull (BWG p. 190). With that it is obvious that the Trait is referring to the second source more than the first. I see three plausible ways of interpreting it:

  • Other people see the character as bad luck and say "He's a Jonah, that one" about him
  • The character himself is prone to labeling random people as bringers of bad luck (plays of Superstitious)
  • The character was literally swallowed up by a see monster and then spat back out (where do you think the plate in his skull come from).
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