Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Arabic Word in English: Serendipity

The word SERENDIPITY was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, creating the English word on the basis of the place name "Serendip," which is an old name for Sri Lanka (Ceylon); it is sometimes spelled Serendib. Walpole had in mind a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip in which the heroes were always making happy discoveries by accident, hence the meaning Walpole gave to serendipity: "[people] making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of." The word "serendipity" (not capitalized) now refers to any type of happy accident or a pleasant surprise. You can read more about the Three Princes of Serendip in this Wikipedia article.

The English place name Serendip is from the Arabic name, Sarandib. There are in turn various etymologies proposed for this word; the one I like best is the Sanskrit  Sinhaladvipa, the Lion Island (Sinhala-Dvipa). Another possibility is Suvarnadvipa, the Golden Island (Suvarna-Dvipa). For more about the names of Sri Lanka, see this Wikipedia article.

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