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Definition

serendipity

In general, serendipity is the act of finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it. In information technology, serendipity often plays a part in the recognition of a new product need or in solving a design problem. Web surfing can be an occasion for serendipity since you sometimes come across a valuable or interesting site when you are looking for something else.

The term was coined by English writer Horace Walpole on January 28, 1754, in a letter written to Horace Mann. He credited it to a "silly fairy tale" he once read called 'The Three Princes of Serendip'.

According to the fairy tale, three Persian princes sailed off to make their fortunes in the "land of silk", an island called Serendip . (Today, the island is known as Sri Lanka.) Along the way, the princes made all types of wondrous and delightful discoveries about the island, and learned things they never expected. One such learning was purported to be the discovery that a mule blind in its right eye had recently traveled the same road. This was discovered when they noticed that the grass had been eaten only on the left side of the road.

The term is also sometimes used to mean "the randomness of fate," as in "whatever happens to cross my desk today."

This was last updated in December 2006

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