Serendipity

As one of my readers is fan of my articles about words, I think it is a good idea to talk about a new one: “serendipity”.

“Serendipity” derives from Serendip, an old name for Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), from Arabic Sarandib, Sanskrit Simhaladvipa “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”.

This curious word was coined by the British author Horace Walpole (1717 – 92) in Jan. 28, 1754 in a letter to Sir Horace Mann, British Baronet and diplomat who lived in Florence and met Walpole in 1739. They conducted a correspondence with each other over many years, and in one of those letters Walpole said that he formed the word from the Persian fairy tale “The three princes of Serendip”, whose heroes where always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.

The text of the letter from Walpole to Mann is the following:

“…This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip;” as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand Serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental Sagacity, (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description,) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who, happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table.”

“Serendipity” is a noun meaning:

1. The luck some people have in finding or creating interesting or valuable things by chance.

2. An unsought, unintended, or unexpected discovery, made by accident and sagacity.

Example:

“Some of the best effects in my garden have been the result of serendipity”.

The phonetic transcription for the word “serendipity” is: /ser-ən-ˈdi-pə-tē/

(NOTES: Sanskrit: the classical Indian literary language from 4c. B.C.E.).

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