"The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity"

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 13 17:49:15 UTC 2004

Participants in this list may be interested to know that the famous
long-unpublished book, "The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study
in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science" by Robert K.
Merton and Elinor Barber, has now at last been published (Princeton
University Press, 2004).  I have previously expressed my personal debts to
Merton, who was the world's foremost sociologist and who has indirectly
inspired much of my work in the sociology of knowledge and in historical

This book tells the fascinating tale of the word "serendipity," coined in
a literary context by Horace Walpole in 1754 and re-discovered
serendipitously by Merton (while looking up another word in the OED in
1945) and then popularized (it had previously been highly obscure) by
Merton.  The book, in addition to having much to say about sociology and
science and politics and literature, devotes an entire chapter to
"Dictionaries and 'Serendipity'" and has other things relevant to
lexicography and language.  For example, in an afterword Merton used JSTOR
and Lexis-Nexis to trace historical statistics of usage of the word.

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com

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