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serendipity

GC: n

S: http://www.rockefeller.edu/pubinfo/Pasteur/Kornberg_essay.html(external link) (last access: 29 December 2015); http://interestingliterature.com/2015/01/28/a-short-history-of-the-word-serendipity/(external link) (last access: 29 December 2015).

N: 1. 1754 (but rare before 20c.), coined by Horace Walpole (1717-92) in a letter to Horace Mann (dated Jan. 28); 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 is from Serendip, an old name for Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), from Arabic Sarandib, from Sanskrit Simhaladvipa "Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island."
2. The faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also: an instance of this.
3. Edgar Allan Poe wrote his only complete novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket in 1838. It involves an attempted mutiny of the whaling ship. Pym and two others repel the mutineers, killing or throwing overboard all but one. The spared mutineer, named Richard Parker, is kept aboard in order to help operate the ship. This turns out to be inadequate, as the ship capsizes, leaving the quartet shipwrecked and without adequate food. Parker suggests that cannibalism is the only way out, and they draw straws to determine the victim. Parker loses and becomes dinner. Again, that is fiction. But in 1846 — just eight years after Poe published his novel — a real-life Richard Parker died in a shipwreck. He and 20 others were on board the doomed Francis Spaight, which sank, killing all on board. This is in and of itself, much ado about nothing; it is a mere coincidence and not a very good one at that, as it involves neither mutiny nor cannibalism.
Fast forward a few decades to 1884 and the coincidence becomes downright creepy. A yacht named the Mignonette sank, and four people — just like in the story of Arthur Gordon Pym — made their way into a lifeboat. And just like in Pym’s tale, the four find themselves lacking food and are desperate. They did not draw straws, however; rather, two of the remaining three simply killed the youngest, a cabin boy who had fallen into a coma. All three then dined on the now-deceased 17 year old. The cabin boy’s name, of course, was Richard Parker.
4. Cultural Interrelation: We can mention the movie Serendipity directed by Peter Chelsom in 2001 and The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity by Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber.

S: 1. OED - http://goo.gl/JccEW8(external link) (last access: 29 December 2015). 2. MW - http://goo.gl/XAd8rT(external link) (last access: 29 December 2015). 3. http://nowiknow.com/richard-parker/(external link) (last access: 29 December 2015). 4. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0240890/(external link) (last access: 29 December 2015); http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7576.pdf(external link) (last access: 29 December 2015).

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CR: artificial intelligence


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