Had Any “Serendipity” Lately?

Here’s an illustration of what the coined word (in 1754, by Horace Walpole of England) “serendipity” means, and this incident just happened on Tuesday,  the day before yesterday!

I had run across, via my constant “decluttering” efforts, earlier that same day an E-mail  from June 2004 I had sent to Mary Kinney of the “Fayetteville Observer” (assistant  to Editorial Page Editor Tim White at that time) which dealt with the topic of the origin of the word “serendipity.”  Then as I read later that evening the “Doonesbury” cartoon by Garry Trudeau (which appears on the editorial pages of the newspaper),  there was an illustration of that unusual but useful word.

A young man (Leo) who was brain damaged in the Gulf War is talking to his mother and (I think) a counselor and he is trying to tell them, slowly and with great difficulty that “Loo . . . knows Alex!”  And that he is a family friend.  Then Leo tries to explain several times by saying “Pure Ser. . . Ser . . . Ser . . . ” and finally with a rush says,  “Ser-endipity!  His brother says, “Good work, Bud. But it’s not a word.”  And his mother advises, “Try again, honey.”  Great irony, of course, that the brain-damaged one knows more that his audience.

The ironic humor of this scene depends,  of course, on our knowing that “serendipity” is a word that means something like “an unexpected and fortuitous happening” or perhaps a “happy coincidence.”  As I wrote to Mary Kinney (I love Mary’s sense of humor and admire her fortitude),

“Don’t know whether you believe in serendipity.  But, as it so happens, truly,  I had just gone into my inbox for the second time in a couple of hours with my only intention being to send you a message.  And, lo and behold,  you make it very easy for me by sending me your message to “Reply to” (the only new message in my mailbox).

“I have recently been reading a review of a book by Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber, titled ‘The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity:  A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science.’   The word in question traces back to its use in 1754 by Horace Walpole [best known perhaps for his Gothic Romance,  ‘The Castle of Otranto’], who mentions a ‘silly fairy tale’ he had once read,  titled ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’ (‘Serendip’ is an ancient name for Ceylon, which is now Sri Lanka).  The princes have a habit of discovering pleasant scenes and adventures they were not looking for.  Merton’s and Barber’s book has as its thesis the premise that scientists often make discoveries of more importance that what it is they are actually looking for.  The  gist of the principle behind the term is found in a statement by Louis Pasteur:  ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.'”

And so it also happens that in my “Sandspur” column this week I have told of a significant “serendipity” from my own life’s history. . . .   Maybe you all have at least one similar chapter in your life’s story.  If so, we would be pleased to hear about it.



2 Responses to “Had Any “Serendipity” Lately?”

  1. bunuel Says:


  2. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Wow Raymond, thanks for sharing! Just read it.
    Many eagles to you out there!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: