Zemblanity is the Opposite of Serendipity

Stef Lewandowski, in a post titled “Accelerating Serendipity” talks about some of the ways he’s made serendipity become more prevalent in his life. Say yes more, attend events, and find the right location.

But it was this paragraph about zemblanitythe polar opposite of serendipitythat caught my attention:

Zemblanity, a word coined by William Boyd in his book Armadillo in the 1980s, is the polar opposite of serendipity. It’s named after the cold, barren serendipity-less island of Zembla:

“So what is the opposite of Serendip, a southern land of spice and warmth, lush greenery and hummingbirds, seawashed, sunbasted? Think of another world in the far north, barren, icebound, cold, a world of flint and stone. Call it Zembla. Ergo: zemblanity, the opposite of serendipity, the faculty of making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries by design.”

Good stuff.


And here is Wikipedia on The Three Princes of Serendip, the origin of the word Serendipity. The word serendipity was first coined in modern times by Horace Walpole:

The Three Princes of Serendip is the English version of the Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo published by Michele Tramezzino in Venice in 1557. Tramezzino claimed to have heard the story from one Christophero Armeno who had translated the Persian fairy tale into Italian adapting Book One of Amir Khusrau‘s Hasht Bihisht of 1302. The story first came to English via a French translation, and now exists in several out-of-print translations. Serendip is the Persian and Urdu name for Sri Lanka, which was adopted from Tamil “Seren deevu” or originally from Sanskrit Suvarnadweepaor golden island. In contrast, some trace the etymology to Simhaladvipa which literally translates to “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”

The story has become known in the English speaking world as the source of the word serendipity, coined by Horace Walpole because of his recollection of the part of the “silly fairy tale” where the three princes by “accidents and sagacity” discern the nature of a lost camel. In a separate line of descent, the story was used by Voltaire in his 1747 Zadig, and through this contributed to both the evolution of detective fiction and also to the self-understanding of scientific method.


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