Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Opposite of Serendipity

It was serendipitous* when I came across the wonderful Augustus Carp a couple of days ago. It was the opposite of serendipitous, whatever that might be, when I came across Love and Mr Lewisham by H G Wells, and Robert E. Lee by John Drinkwater. Fired by my earlier success, I took them home, only to be bored by Love and Mr Lewisham. It was dated and it was dull. This was H G Wells: I wanted Martians, I wanted time machines, I even wanted absconding shopkeepers. What I got was a man who wants to become a success, and gets married and becomes mediocre instead. Yawn. Robert E. Lee was a play about the Confederate general. I was hopeful about this, having enjoyed several plays from the 20s and 30s, which seems to be something of a golden age for British theatre. Wrongo! This was contrived and cheesy, the gloom only relieved by some unintentional humour as the author attempts to hint at great battles on a tiny stage. Crack! Yet another character is offed by a sniper's bullet. I sniggered as they toppled with monotonous regularity. There was also a dreadful "witty" character with a banjo. Avoid, gentle readers!

*although perhaps not THAT serendipitous that your intrepid reader should find a good book, considering I was wandering among the stacks at the time ...

Day 140; Book 139


  1. Well, actually serendipity just means chance, fate or luck, which can be good or bad, so it's equally serendipitous that you got lumbered with the bad books. It's antonym is design, purpose or intent. Just thought I'd bore you with that. Sorry.

  2. How serendipitous that you came along ...

  3. Oh OED, I love thee:

    [f. Serendip, a former name for Sri Lanka + -ITY.
    A word coined by Horace Walpole, who says (Let. to Mann, 28 Jan. 1754) that he had formed it upon the title of the fairy-tale ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’, the heroes of which ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’.]

    The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. Also, the fact or an instance of such a discovery.
    Formerly rare, this word and its derivatives have had wide currency in the 20th century.
    1754 H. WALPOLE Let. to Mann 28 Jan., This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity. 1880 E. SOLLY Index Titles of Honour Pref. 5 The inquirer was at fault, and it was not till some weeks later, when by the aid of Serendipity, as Horace Walpole called it{em}that is, looking for one thing and finding another{em}that the explanation was accidentally found. 1926 E. MEYNELL Life of Francis Thompson xiii. 221 To the Serendipity Shop{em}the venture of a friend in Westbourne Grove{em}he would often go. 1955 Sci. Amer. Apr. 92/1 Our story has as its critical episode one of those coincidences that show how discovery often depends on chance, or rather on what has been called ‘serendipity’{em}the chance observation falling on a receptive eye. 1971 S. E. MORISON European Discovery Amer.: Northern Voy. i. 3 Columbus and Cabot..(by the greatest serendipity of history) discovered America instead of reaching the Indies. 1980 TWA Ambassador Oct. 47/2 It becomes a glum bureaucracy, instead of the serendipity of 30 people putting out a magazine.

  4. Given its origins, I'd question the emphasis on "happy". Surely the accidental discoveries of the original princes might have included less fortunate ones, say (to give a more modern example) the "accidental" scientific discovery of the side-effects of Thalidomide. Nevertheless, usage is the king of language, and if the majority understand and use the word to mean a fortuitous discovery rather than an ambivalent one, then I must simply bow to the inevitable. Not that I'm saying I'm wrong, mind you.

  5. An excellent sig line for you (and I may adapt it myself):

    "Not that I'm saying I'm wrong, mind you".