Thursday, April 16, 2009



1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.
3. An instance of making such a discovery.

Put simply, it is good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries. I always had trouble remembering the meaning of this word. It's a substantial word. According to Wikipedia, plays a huge role in Economics, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Medicine, et cetera. It's also a pleasant word, I think, perhaps because it implies good fortune. There's this uniqueness to it; it would be hard to find an appropriate synonym. So, a good way of not forgetting Serendipity would be to know where it comes from.

Before we proceed, it is important for you to hear the tale of the Three Princes of Serendip (it's a Persian fairy tale). It has been told beautifully on Wikipedia. Here's a gist of it:

   "King Giaffer, ruler of Serendip, had three sons. He undertook to provide them with the finest education imparted by the most knowledgeable tutors. After a while, he felt that his sons' education was too sheltered and privileged and eventually sent them away from the country.

    On their arrival abroad, the three princes traced clues to precisely identify a camel they have never seen. They concluded that the camel is lame, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other. When they later encountered the merchant who has lost the camel, they reported their observations to him. He accused them of stealing the camel and took them to the Emperor Beramo (Bahram V of Persia), demanding punishment.

    The princes explained their deduction as follows: Grass had been eaten from the side of the road where it was less green, so the princes had deduced that the camel was blind on the other side. Because there were lumps of chewed grass on the road the size of a camel’s tooth, they deduced they had fallen through the gap left by a missing tooth. The tracks showed the prints of only three feet, the fourth being dragged, indicating that the animal was lame. That butter was carried on one side of the camel and honey on the other was evident because ants had been attracted to melted butter on one side of the road and flies to spilled honey on the other. One of the princes said: "I guessed that the camel must have carried a woman, because I had noticed that near the tracks where the animal had knelt down the imprint of a foot was visible. Because some urine was near by, I wet my fingers and as a reaction to its odour I felt a sort of carnal concupiscence (sexual desire), which convinced me that the imprint was of a woman’s foot."

    "I guessed that the same woman must have been pregnant," said another prince, "because I had noticed nearby handprints which were indicative that the woman, being pregnant, had helped herself up with her hands while urinating."

    At this moment a traveller enters the scene to say that he has just found a missing camel wandering in the desert. Beramo spares the lives of the Three Princes, lavishes rich rewards on them and appoints them to be his advisors."

The three princes had many other adventures, where good fortune and unexpected accidents followed them and where they continued to display their wisdom.


It is on a later date in a later age that the word 'serendipity' was created. It comes from Serendip, the Old Persian name for Sri Lanka, and was coined by Horace Walpole on 28 January 1754 in a letter written to his friend Horace Mann. In the letter, he mentions 'a silly fairy tale' called The Three Princes of Serendip, the half-blind camel story, and tries to explain the term Serendipity to his friend in this light.

Additional stuff on the names of Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka is an island country to the south of IndiaSri Lanka is a Sanskrit word, where Sri means sacred and Lanka, island. Up until 1972, it was known as Ceylon. Let's do some reverse engineering to find out the origin of this name.

Ceylon (anglicised) <= Cilao (Portuguese) & Ceilan (Dutch) <= Serendib (Arabic) <= Senendiva & Silandiva (Pali, an ancient Indian language) <= Sihalam, which means 'place of jewels'(Pali). Another theory says that Sihalam comes from Sinha, Sanskrit for lion.

At some point of time in history, Sri Lanka was known as Serendib/Serendip in Arabic and Persian. By the way, Serendib doesn't mean anything in colloquial New England Arabic today. I guess Serendip must've been derived from Sanskrit in which Saran means shelter and dip or dvip means island. South Indian fishermen, if they ventured too far out to sea, must've found the Sri Lankan coasts a safe harbour, especially during rough weather.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Let's start with an 'origin'al story. In my dictionary, an 'origin'al story would be one that describes the origin of a word, phrase, idiom or a particular usage. So clean out the earwax and listen intently as I begin:

    Once upon a time, lived a great naval officer. His name was Horatio Nelson, considered by many today as Britain's greatest naval hero.

    In 1801, during the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson acted as second-in-command to Admiral Parker. Leading a fleet of ships, Nelson advanced bravely into the Copenhagen harbour. Before long, he was in the thick of the battle.

    The beginning of battle saw HMS Agamemnon, HMS Bellona, and HMS Russell running aground. Even the remainder of the British fleet suffered heavily at the hands of the Danes. Owing to this, Admiral Parker hoisted a signal flag for Nelson to withdraw. He, however, ignored the order, as he knew that he had the upper hand against the Danish fleet he had engaged. When his signal lieutenant informed him of the signal, he raised his telescope to his eye and said, "I really do not see the signal."

    In actuality, he had raised the telescope to his blind eye. "I have only one eye-I have a right to be blind sometimes." was what he told his flag officer as he proceeded with the battle. Thus it was that he secured a great victory for his country, and in the process gave birth to the phrase: to turn a blind eye.

Horatio Nelson was a great leader and brought out the best in his men through something he called the Nelson touch. defines the Nelson touch as a masterly or sympathetic approach to a problem.

Nelson led a great life and died fighting for his country. He occupies a place not only in our history books, but also in our dictionaries for having added two witty expressions to the English language.

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Just like introducing yourself to someone new can be difficult, first lines on paper are sometimes hard to come by. Although, I shouldn't be allowed to say that, because I always use it as a standard first line to avoid having to write a first line. Now, that we have successfully taken care of the first-line dilemma, let's get down to business.

We don't see it, but Language plays a huge role in shaping everything within and without us, and vice-versa. I won't elaborate on this now, as my further posts will do just that. This blog of mine is dedicated to, as the title suggests, words. Everything, anything about words. I see it fit, therefore, to call my blog posts 'w-articles', short for word-articles. An assortment of the finest pieces on etymology(study of the origin and development of words) from various sources for language-lovers would describe my blog best. Plus, my blog ensures that your hair stays intact even after you turn 90, because now you won't have to pull your hair out trying to get good w-articles under the same roof. It's going to be very random and mishmash, with no structure to it at all. Randomness and spontaneity often inspire my fingers to tap the best keys on the keyboard. But, I'll try to give it some semblance of continuity, wherever required.

I assure you that it will make for some very interesting reading.

One more thing. I relish participation, so please be forthcoming with your comments.

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