Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages. Julius H. Comroe once described serendipity as : to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer’s daughter.

The first noted use of “serendipity” in the English language was by Horace Walpole (1717–1792). In a letter to Horace Mann (dated 28 January 1754) he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”. The name stems from Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon), from Arabic Sarandib, from Sanskrit Suvarnadweepa or golden island (some trace the etymology to Simhaladvipa which literally translates to “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”.

Uses of serendipity

Serendipity is used as a sociological method in Anselm L. Strauss‘ and Barney G. Glaser‘s Grounded Theory, building on ideas by sociologist Robert K. Merton, who in Social Theory and Social Structure (1949) referred to the “serendipity pattern” as the fairly common experience of observing an unanticipated, anomalous and strategic datum which becomes the occasion for developing a new theory or for extending an existing theory. Robert K. Merton also coauthored (with Elinor Barber) The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity[9] which traces the origins and uses of the word “serendipity” since it was coined. The book is “a study in sociological semantics and the sociology of science”, as the subtitle of the book declares. It further develops the idea of serendipity as scientific “method” (as juxtaposed with purposeful discovery by experiment or retrospective prophecy).


Serendipity (film)


During the Christmas shopping season in New York City, Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) meets Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) as they both try to buy the same pair of black cashmere gloves at Bloomingdale’s. They feel a mutual attraction, and despite the fact that each is involved in other relationships, they end up eating ice cream at Serendipity 3 together, and soon exchange goodbyes. However, both realize that they have left something at the ice cream bar, and return only to find each other again.

Considering this to be a stroke of fate, Jonathan and Sara decide to go out on the town together, and ice skate on the Wollman Rink at Central Park. Jonathan teaches Sara about Cassiopeia, saying that the freckles on Sara’s arm match the pattern of the Cassiopeia constellation. At the end of the night, the smitten Jonathan suggests an exchange of phone numbers. Sara writes hers down, but it flies away with the wind. Wanting fate to work things out, Sara asks Jonathan to write his name and phone number on a $5 bill, while she writes her name and number on the inside cover of a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera. If they are meant to be together, he will find the book and she will find the $5 bill, and they will find their way back to each other. Jonathan is not satisfied with this so they go into a hotel with 28 floors and enter into different elevators to see if they both choose the same floor. They each take a single glove from the pair they purchased. They both press floor 23, but a child gets on the elevator with Jonathan and presses all the buttons, so it is too late by the time he reaches floor 23. The two believe they’ve lost each other forever.

Several years later, Jonathan is at an engagement party with his fiancé Halley Buchanan (Bridget Moynahan). On the same day, Sara comes home to her house to find Lars Hammond (John Corbett), a famous musician, proposing to her. As their wedding dates approach, each find themselves with a case of cold feet, and decide to return to New York in an attempt to find each other again.

Jonathan and his best friend Dean Kansky (Jeremy Piven) return to Bloomingdale’s in an attempt to find Sara. They meet the same salesman (Eugene Levy) and eventually end up with only an address. They meet a painter who recalls that she lived there for a short time after being referred by a placement company, which he identifies as being located in a shop next to Serendipity 3. Jonathan and Dean follow the lead to find that the agency has moved and its former location is now a bridal shop. Jonathan takes this as a sign that he is supposed to stop looking for Sara, and get married to Halley.

Sara takes her best friend Eve (Molly Shannon) with her to New York, where she visits the locations of her date, hoping that fate will bring back Jonathan. At the Waldorf Astoria, Eve bumps into an old friend–Halley–who is there to get married the next day. Halley invites Eve and Sara to the wedding without anyone realizing the groom is Jonathan. Failing in their search, Sara and Eve console themselves with a coffee at Serendipity. Eve is handed the $5 bill as change.

The day before the big event, Halley hands Jonathan a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera as a gift, having noticed him picking up the book every time they’re in a bookstore. It is the copy that Sara had written in, and he immediately sets off to find her. He sees people in her house being intimate, when it’s actually Sara’s sister and her boyfriend. Jonathan then comes back home for the wedding.

Sara decides not to attend the wedding, and starts to return home. She goes to the Waldorf to retrieve her belongings, where she finds Lars, who followed her to New York. While with Lars, she sees Cassiopeia in the sky, and breaks her engagement with him. On the plane the next day, Sara finds that her wallet got exchanged with Eve’s. She realizes she has the same $5 bill which Jonathan wrote on several years earlier, and gets off the plane to search for him. His neighbors tell her he’s getting married the same day. She rushes to the hotel, only to see a man, apparently cleaning up at the end of the ceremony. She is in tears until the man says the wedding was called off. Sara later remembers the jacket she left in the park.

Jonathan is wandering around Central Park. He finds Sara’s jacket and uses it as a pillow to lie down. As the first snowflake drops, he sees Sara. They introduce themselves to each other formally for the first time. The film concludes with Sara and Jonathan at Bloomingdale’s, enjoying champagne on their anniversary at the same spot where they first met.

Serendipity Soundtrack



Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Chelsom
Produced by Simon Fields
Peter Abrams
Robert L. Levy
Written by Marc Klein
Starring John Cusack
Kate Beckinsale
Bridget Moynahan
John Corbett
Jeremy Piven
Eugene Levy
Molly Shannon
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography John De Borman
Editing by Christopher Greenbury
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) October 5, 2001
Running time 90 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $28,000,000
Box office $77,516,304

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