Word for Wednesday: Serendipity

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Have you ever been focused on searching for something only to discover something new and fascinating along the way? If so, you have encountered serendipity.

Coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford and author of the gothic classic The Castle of Otranto, Serendipity is the phenomenon of finding something of value that was not initially sought – a pleasant surprise.

Realizing the recurring instances of good happenstance in the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, Walpole wrote to a friend describing this, as yet, undefined species of fortune. In this letter, he mentioned that Princes of Serendip were “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of”.

Coining the word serendipity makes it far easier to describe this kind of good fortune don’t you think? Today Translations listed it as one of the ten hardest words to translate from its native English and it has become a kind of ‘borrowed’ word in other tongues.

There are many famous cases of serendipity in every field, but possibly the most notable is the invention of penicillin by Alexander Fleming. In film, accidents on the set can often bring life to the script. In music composition, you can stumble upon new ideas when exploring a single concept – in essence, accidents; even mistakes can be the key to finding something new.

Although I’m certain that you will have encountered serendipity before, I hope that you’re now equipped with the word or at least an insight into its origins.

Hugh MacDermott

12 Mar 2014
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