One of my favorite subjects is finding useful words and learning how they evolve. That’s one reason I subscribe to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor” from American Public Media. The “Almanac” sends me literary news with a poem every day.
This is how I learned that the first use of the word “serendipity” was on January 28, 1754. To quote:
“It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” It was recently listed by a U.K. translation company as one of the English language’s 10 most difficult words to translate. Other words to make their list include plenipotentiary, gobbledegook, poppycock, whimsy, spam, and kitsch.
“Serendipity” was first used by parliament member and writer Horace Walpole in a letter that he wrote to an English friend who was spending time in Italy. In the letter to his friend written on this day in 1754, Walpole wrote that he came up with the word after a fairy tale he once read, called “The Three Princes of Serendip,” explaining, “as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” The three princes of Serendip hail from modern-day Sri Lanka. “Serendip” is the Persian word for the island nation off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka.
The invention of many wonderful things have been attributed to “serendipity,” including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization of rubber, inkjet printers, Silly Putty, the Slinky, and chocolate chip cookies.
Julius Comroe said, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.”
Wiktionary lists serendipity’s antonyms as “Murphy’s law” and “perfect storm.” “
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