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Research in motion: from my “serendipity” notebook



[mass noun]  the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way:  a fortunate stroke of serendipity

[count noun]  a series of small serendipities

These definitions, plucked from the Oxford English Dictionary’s online edition, are accompanied in characteristic OED fashion by an account of the word’s “origin”:  “coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things that they were not in quest of.””  http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/view/entry/m_en_gb0756730#m_en_gb0756730

Already, then, my interrogation of the significance of “serendipity” exemplifies serendipity, offers itself as an example of what the word, from its putative “origin,” means to say.  I certainly was not in quest of a fairy tale that, in more years than I care to count as a student and teacher of comparative literature, I had never read, in any language (could this in any way be connected to the fact that I still have outstanding student loans?).  How peculiar, then, to be prompted (no doubt in part by my recent reading of Clay Shirky, a great champion of the cognitive surplus behind Wikipedia), to find myself clicking from the OED entry on “serendipity” to the free encyclopedia’s account of The Three Princes of Serendip.  Allow me to recount some of what I learned.

The Three Princes of Serendip is the English version of the Peregrinaggio di tre figluoli del re di Serendippo published by Michelle Tramezzino in Venice in 1557.  Tramezzino claimed to have heard the story from one Christophero Armeno who had translated the Persian fairy tale into Italian adapting Book One of Amir Khusrau’s Hasht Bihisht of 1302.  The story first came to English via a French translation, and now exists in several out-of-print translations.  Serendip is the Persian name for Sri Lanka.

I am riveted as I go on to read that

The story has become known in the English speaking world as the source of the word serendipity, coined by Horace Walpole because of his recollection of the part of the “silly fairy tale” where the three princes by “accidents and sagacity” discern the nature of a lost camel.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Princes_of_Serendip

So, what do a lost camel and the future of journalism have in common?  Stay tuned.

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