13 February 2019

Happenstance


Yesterday morning as I stirred from sleep, a word rose up from the murky depths of my unfathomable mind. It was a word that I do not ever remember using - not even once in my entire life. That word was "happenstance". I liked the sound of it and it buzzed about in my skull like a bluebottle - happenstance, happenstance...

I knew roughly what it meant - something like co-incidence or circumstance. It's not a word you encounter every day. Google led me to a good example of the word in context:-

While some gardens can be grown through happenstance, a water garden is deliberately created by the gardener.

"Happenstance" implies happenings that  somehow collide. Some seeds were scattered. A shrub was planted. Creeping ground plants invaded from next door's garden. And together, through happenstance, the garden evolved into what you see today.

It seems that the word was first coined in the USA in the 1850's so it has not been around for very long. It sounds somehow Shakespearean but Shakespeare never used it. He went to his grave 250 years before "happenstance" emerged. Who first gave breath to the word is unknown - perhaps it was a mistake - but it seemed to fill a gap in the language, cleverly combining "happening" with "circumstance" just as "guesstimate" in more recent times has usefully combined "guess" with "estimate".

While particular word usage may  decline over time, the graph for "happenstance" has followed a steady, upward trajectory since 1900. However, just as I don't remember ever using the word myself, so I don't recall anyone else using it in my company. That may be pure happenstance or more likely the word mostly rears its head on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

If you also happen to like the word "happenstance" then this blogpost has been happenstantial.

19 comments:

  1. I love it. It does indeed sound as if shakespeare would have used it but can't somehow see it getting much usage down the local pub these days. It's a bit like perchance.

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    1. Yes. Perchance is another fine word and Shakespeare certainly used that one. It originated in France as "par cheance".

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  2. I love unusual words and have used this quite a lot - often probably quite unnecessarily.

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    1. Those who have heard you have probably come away grumbling - "That there Graham was using big words again!"

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    2. I admit that you have a point, YP. However I do tend to have a lot of friends who do likewise.

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    3. You should have been in our Olympic verbosity team. You would have probably medalled.

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  3. Ha! Well, no. I've never used the word happenstance in my life nor do I think I've ever heard anyone use it in conversation but now I might start using it. I love how the word was coined. It's almost as if the word "happy" was involved. A happy circumstance.

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    1. I think you are right. There is the sense of a happenstance being a happy collision of factors.

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  4. So you wrote this post just to be able to sneak in the last word. Good one!. I've heard the word but don't know if I read it or heard somebody use it. I probably read it. I'm not going to use it. I might use happenstantial!

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    1. You could also use "reddish", "redwood" and "redness" and don't forget your favourite birds - the redwing and the redstart!

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    2. How about redistantial!

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  5. If I was speaking Wiltshire dialect I would probably reply "'Appen." Meaning maybe or perhaps.

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  6. Happenstance is a good word. And now you have helped spread it around. Sort of like peanut butter, or - what is it you have over there? marmite? - like that :)

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    1. If there was a presidential election, I would vote for Happenstance. Yes - we do have "Marmite". Some people love it while others hate it. I am in the "love it" camp.

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  7. I doubt I've seen that word written, or spoken, before reading this post!

    'Tis proof, one is never too old to learn! :)

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  8. talking of words, I was at a workshop yesterday and trying to explain to peopple that I feel there is a subtle difference between co-operation and collaboration. I never noticed until the facilitator pointed out, it's the difference between co operate and co labour.

    maybe you might describe that as an interesting little happenstance

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  9. As I often read books that were originally published in the latter half of the 19th century, I have come across that word many times, although not using it myself. It is a pretty word with a little spring in its step.

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  10. Yeah, I don't think I've used that word either! I wonder what the difference is between happenstance and circumstance. To say something happened by happenstance and by circumstance seems, to me, to say essentially the same thing.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.

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