In an ideal lexicographical world, every word ought to be matched with its opposite, its antonym. Ever since 1754, when Horace Walpole created serendipity — the ability to make unexpected and fortunate discoveries — it has had to survive without one. It is only recently appeared:
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. Serendipity and zemblanity: the twin poles of the axis around which we revolve.
Armadillo, by William Boyd, 1998.
Boyd’s source may be a strangely constructed novel by Vladimir Nabokov of 1962, Pale Fire, which features the “distant northern land” of Zembla and a series of apparent coincidences that are actually a deliberate linkage of events. Nabokov's reference is surely to Novaya Zemlya, a group of Arctic islands owned by Russia, which were at one time commonly referred to in English as Nova Zembla. Zemlya means earth or land in Russian, a prosaic word, but not in itself unpleasant.
Zemblanity hasn’t achieved mainstream status, though Mr Justice Michael Peart used it in a legal judgment in Ireland in 2012 and it has been borrowed as the title of a bit of madcap physical theatre, which was performed, for example, at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added or updated
Joe Soap; Fair to middling; Nimrod; Isabelline; No soap; Umquhile; Steal one’s thunder; Katy bar the door; Simoleon; Dope; Lord love a duck; Yarely; Upset the apple cart; Snooter; Fard; By hook or by crook; Polish off; Loggerhead; Lame duck; But and ben; Logomaniac; Type louse; Corium; Lie Doggo; Fewmet; Dingbat; Kibosh; Caucus; Oryzivorous.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.