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Serendipity is a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated. The word has been voted as one of the ten English words that were hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.[1] However, due to its sociological use, the word has been imported into many other languages.[2]



The first noted use of this word was by Horace Walpole (1717–1792). In a letter to Mann (dated January 28th) he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of". The name stems either from Serendip, an old name for Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), or from Arabic Sarandib, or from Sanskrit Simhaladvipa which literally translates to "Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island".[3]

Role in science and technology

One aspect of Walpole's original definition of serendipity that is often missed in modern discussions of the word is the "sagacity" of being able to link together apparently innocuous facts to come to a valuable conclusion. Thus, while some scientists and inventors are reluctant about reporting accidental discoveries, others openly admit its role; in fact serendipity is a major component of scientific discoveries and inventions. According to M. K. Stoskopf[4] "it should be recognized that serendipitous discoveries are of significant value in the advancement of science and often present the foundation for important intellectual leaps of understanding".

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