In a list of my twenty favorite words, serendipity would rank fairly high. It means accidentally making a desirable discovery. Pure luck! I first learned its meaning in my Introduction to Reference Services course in my library/information science masters program. We didn’t have the Internet and Google back then! We had to actually thumb through the indices of massive books and other printed matter such as vertical file material. When given assignments for finding elusive information, tracking it through a reasoned search was a job well done, but discovering it accidentally was just plain fun! I love saying the word, sensing the pops in my mouth, eliciting a happy feeling.
According to Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac,” it is one of the most difficult words to translate.
The article states: “’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 … 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.
“Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin after he left for vacation without disinfecting some of his petri dishes filled with bacteria cultures; when he got back to his lab, he found that the penicillium mold had killed the bacteria.
“Viagra had been developed to treat hypertension and angina pectoris; it didn’t do such a good job at these things, researchers found during the first phase of clinical trials, but it was good for something else.
“The principles of radioactivity, X-rays, and infrared radiation were all found when researchers were looking for something else.
“Julius Comroe said, ‘Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.’”
May you experience a serendipity today!