Sunday, March 18, 2012

Word Origins 101 - Serendipity

I was walking along the sidewalk with my three year old daughter this afternoon, coming back from kite-flying and monkey-bar romping at the playground. She stopped suddenly and exclaimed, "Look!" There on the ground was a little yellow happy face magnet, smiling back up at us. We took it home and it now has a happy new home on the fridge, next to the Jelly Belly magnet.

The little magnet she found is remarkably like the one that dots the "i" on my web-site header at the top of this page. This got me thinking about the word "serendipity." I've used it a lot but never much thought about where it comes from. I thought it might be somehow related to "serene," but it turns out the story behind serendipity is a lot more interesting than I could have imagined.

It was coined in 1754 by a British chap the name of Horace Walpole (1717-92) who was the 4th Earl of Orford. He used it in a letter to the Isle of Mann; he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale "The Three Princes of Serendip," whose heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of." The name is from Serendip, an old name for Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), from Arabic Sarandib, from Sanskrit. Simhaladvipa, which means "Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island." Source

So the short of it is, the word serendipity comes from a word that means "an island where lions live." A totally unexpected and weird little fact. That's cool.

And, even more interestingly, we learn from all that that Sri Lanka was originally named "the island where lions live."

On another note, the photo of the magnet was taken by my daughter with her Vtech Kidizoom camera. It's a great little camera that is super easy to use. At $40 there are cheaper digital cameras out there, but they aren't nearly as durable and kid-friendly. My daughter's preschool teacher even uses a couple of them in her classroom for projects that involve photography. They come in orange and pink.