Courtesy of the New York Times daily ‘Briefing’, Garvan Hill would like to share this serendipitously discovered piece of cultural information.
It’s easy to create new words by adding the suffix “-gate” or “-iness” to it. (See Stephen Colbert’s truthiness.)
What Horace Walpole, a British member of Parliament, did in a letter written on this day in 1754 was a bit more creative.
He wrote to a friend of a word he conceived to describe what happened to three princes he read about in a fairy tale. The brothers were constantly discovering things by accident.
The fairy tale’s name? “The Three Princes of Serendip.” The word he came up with, of course, was serendipity.
“Three Princes” was a Persian tale and “Serendip” was an old name for Sri Lanka, the island nation off India’s coast that served as the royals’ home.
In Walpole’s letter, he described as an aha moment while browsing a book: “This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.”
Slinkys and chocolate chip cookies — both of which we’ve written about in recent Back Stories — are just two inventions that were discovered serendipitously.