Serendipity is described as the effect of discovering something fortunate while looking for something else.
The credit for coining it goes to Horace Walpole who used it in a letter to his friend Horace Mann. He claimed to draw inspiration from a Persian fairy tale. His exacts word are as follows
"It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon's, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table."
The Three Princes of Serendip is an old Persian fairy tale about three men who were on a mission but they always found something that was irrelevant but needed in reality. They discovered things by good fortune and sagacity.
Serendip is the Persian name for Sri Lanka. Which makes the word much closer to home.
Image: A scene from the movie Serendipity