Thursday, July 26, 2007


Today's Word*

serendipity \ser-uhn-DIP-uh-tee\, noun:
The faculty or phenomenon of making fortunate accidental discoveries.

"Still, I was more subject to serendipity than I yet knew. Soon risk, chance, and a letter from Sir Alun Reese-Jones, the Master of Trinity, my college at Cambridge, were to set my life on an adventurous course."
            – David Freeman, One of Us

"Yet even as I planned a rough route, leaving plenty of room for serendipity, I was uncomfortably aware that journeys have a way of creating their own momentum."
            – Lesley Hazleton, Driving to Detroit

"There again, perhaps because of serendipity, or an especially conscientious team of doctors, it can also happen that the crucial clues are noticed and recorded for posterity."
            – Edward Hooper, The River

The word serendipity was formed by English author Horace Walpole (1717-1797) from Serendip (also Serendib), an old name for Sri Lanka, in reference to a Persian tale, "The Three Princes of Serendip," whose heroes "discovered, quite unexpectedly, great and wonderful good in the most unlikely of situations, places and people."
Long a devotee of serendipity myself, I admit that I have taken my own pleasure in numerous serendipities in my life. With a colder eye now, though, I observe that we probably encounter just as many things in life (if not more) that could be unfortunate accidental discoveries. But so far as I know we don't have a word for that. We have the word serendipity because it serves us better and makes us happy to focus on and accentuate the positive. Rather, I suppose, like believing in a benevolent God and various other varieties of favorable magic. We believe in what we want or need to believe in.

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