September 11, 2022

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Every language has some untranslatable expressions that don't have a precise equivalent in other languages. In German, for instance, there is the word "waldeinsamkeit", which literally means "loneliness of the forest". The Germans use it to describe the enlightened feeling of tranquil solitude and connection with nature one might experience when walking alone among trees. Germany is captivated by woodlands, so this feeling perfectly represents the nation’s psyche.

In English, one such evocative word is "serendipity". It can loosely be translated as "an unplanned fortunate discovery", or "the fact of finding interesting or valuable things by chance". The first recorded use of the word "serendipity" dates back to 1754 and is attributed to the Gothic writer Horace Walpole, who also introduced words such as malaria, souvenir, sombre and nuance into the English language.

One day, Walpole read the 14th-century Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip (Serendip being the old name for Sri Lanka). In it, the lives of the princes are spared thanks to a lucky occurrence, their observation skills, and good fortune. As Walpole describes his own lucky incident in a letter addressed to his friend Horace Mann, he writes: “This discovery indeed is almost of that kind which I call SERENDIPITY.”

Some may have heard the word owing to the popular 2001 romantic comedy Serendipity, starring Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack. The two protagonists have a meet-cute at a shop when both are trying to buy the same pair of gloves. After the coincidental encounter, they proceed to share dessert at a real New York cafe called Serendipity III, which, by the way, still operates to this day. Thus the complicated love story begins.

Distributors all over the world struggled to adapt the title into their respective languages. In Portugal it was dubbed A Happy Chance, in Russia the movie was released under the name Intuition, and in France it is known simply as A Love in New York. Yet despite being so hard to explain to foreigners, "serendipity" was voted as the most beloved word by the British public in a 2000 poll (beating "Quidditch" into second place). The choice of a favourite word seems a bit serendipitous itself.

Kate Moró
Kate Moró

Hi there, brave learners! My name is Kate, and I am a professional translator and content writer. I’m passionate about languages and have always believed in the power of words. I studied in the UK and wrote articles for major media outlets. On Nuto, I share the things I find fascinating, in hope that you will find them interesting too.

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