Monday, March 23, 2015

Happy Accidents

The other day I was ransacking a desk drawer looking for some receipts (it’s tax time again), when I unexpectedly came across a $5 bill lurking between two pieces of paper. This discovery of something valuable or agreeable purely by accident is known as serendipity. 

The word was first used in 1754 by Horace Walpole, an author and Member of Parliament, in a letter to an English friend in Italy. Walpole explained that he concocted the word from a fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip,” which he had read as a boy. Serendip is the Persian and Urdu word for the country now known as Sri Lanka.

The fairy tale is a translation of an Italian story by Michele Tramezzino, published in Venice in 1557. In it three princes set out on a journey during which they make a number of useful discoveries either by accident or by their native wit. 

Many readers have unexpectedly come upon the work of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou quite by accident. They invariably regard this untoward event not as serendipity, but as an unmitigated disaster. To live up to his tarnished reputation, the Bard offers two examples of his egregiousness:

            A rabbit came hopping up, hippity-hoo,
            To get his fur styled with some Dippity-Do,
                        Folks thought it funny
                        To see a chic bunny,
            And to find him by pure serendipity, too.

            We thought it was somewhat precipitous
            And not in the least serendipitous
                         When a villain appeared,
                         And he snarled and he sneered, 
            Then he curled his stiff upper lip at us.

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