Thursday, May 9, 2019

Language of Confusion: Matters of Luck

Feeling lucky today, punk?

Fortune showed up in the fourteenth century, coming from the Old French fortune and the classical Latin fortuna, which just seems to be fortune with an a instead of an e. It’s from fors, chance or luck, and is thought to derive from the Proto Indo European bher-, to carry. Yeah, etymologists aren’t actually sure that’s where it comes from, but they thought that “carry” shifted to “that which is brought”, which somehow shifted to luck. I mean, maybe.

Chance also showed up in the fourteenth century, meaning “something that takes place”, especially something “beyond human control”, which is obvious where the luck element comes in. It’s from the Old French cheance, accident, chance, or fortune, and that’s from the Vulgar Latin cadentia, “that which falls out”, referring to dice! It’s from the classical Latin cadens, falling, from the verb cadere, to fall, and can be traced back to the Proto Indo European kad-, to fall. So because dice fall, we have chance.

Luck showed up quite a bit later, having appeared in the sixteenth century. No one’s actually sure where it came from. It has no Old English equivalent, but it might be from the Middle Dutch luc, which is short for gheluc, happiness and good fortune. Frankly, that makes more sense than the fortune thing. Oh, and luck as a verb—like to luck into something—didn’t show up until 1945. I guess they didn’t luck into things before then!

Well, that’s all I have for this week. Kind of a short one, I guess. I’m sure we’ll be back to long-winded next week.



  1. 1945? Did someone say they lucked into the war ending?

  2. Hmm... I feel like I should have something related to falling, but my eyes hurt this morning, so I got nothin'.

  3. It was luck that by chance I fell into this fortune...

  4. Less convoluted than some terms can be!

  5. And now chance is becoming a name... (Seriously, I've met several Chances.)


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