Horace Walpole (1717-1797) first used the word ‘serendipity’ in the English language in a letter dated 28th January 1754 to Horace Mann. Walpole said that he had formed the word from a Persian Fairy Tale called ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’. The hero of the book was constantly making discoveries ‘by accident and sagacity and chancing upon things they were not in quest of’ and Warpole’s word ‘serendipity’ entered the dictionary with this meaning.

The Three Princes of Serendip, is a tale concerning the deductive powers of the sons of the philosopher-king of Serendip. The tale ‘Three Princes of Serendip’ was published in Venice in 1557 by an enterprising printer called Michele Tramezzino. Richard Boyle who reviewed a sociological paper by the name ‘The Travels and Adventures of Seredipity’ written by Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber says, “When Horace Walpole committed the word serendipity to paper Tramezzino was himself the compiler of the various tales, which were probably of ancient origin, mostly Indian”, hence indicating the Persian tale ‘The Three Princes of Svarnadvipa’ also had an Indian origin. And sure enough ‘The three Prices of Svarnadvipa’ has a the Panchatantra kind of twist to the story. To read a gist of the story click and scroll down on the page here.

Etymological dictionaries accept that the name ‘Serendip’ stems from the Sanskrit ‘Svarnadvipa’ (सुवर्णद्वीप), meaning the ‘Golden Island’, an old name for Sri Lanka. The Arabs ‘Svarnadvipa’ pronounced it as Sarandib. (Some trace the etymology of serendipity to Sanskrit ‘Simhadvipa’ which literally translates to ‘Island of Lions’).

Sri Lanka came to be known as ‘Suvarnadvipa’ (Golden Island)
from which the word ‘Serendipity’  is derived. In ancient Hindu scriptures
Sri Lanka was known as ‘Suvarna Lanka’ (Golden Lanka). 

Serendipity! The meaning of the word has however since changed to ‘a pleasant accident’ from its original meaning. “It’s a bizarre but wonderful feeling, to arrive dead center of a target you didn’t even know you were aiming for.” ― Lois McMaster Bujold.

Suggested links:

1. Serendipity- How the Vogue word became Vague
2. The Three Prices of Suvrnadvipa


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