fortuitous, fortuitously
1. The OED and all reputable dictionaries show fortuitous to be a word with only one meaning, ‘caused by chance, accidental’. Addison wrote in the Spectator in 1712 that the highest Degree of [wisdom] which Man can possess, is by no means equal to fortuitous Events. It is first recorded in the 17c, and was used for nearly three centuries without difficulty. But about 1920 it started to get in the way of the older (Middle English) word fortunate, which is also connected with the working of chance and more specifically with the good effects of chance. (Whether this confusion was due to a double association with fortunate and propitious cannot now be determined; but propitious is sometimes the word called for rather than fortunate.) In an example given by Fowler (1926), the word required is fortunate but the word used is fortuitous: I must say I should not have expected so fortuitous a termination of a somewhat daring experiment. This encroachment is restricted to events and circumstances; with reference to people, fortunate remains unthreatened so far:

• I was fortunate in being on the spot to take this photograph —Country Life, 1971.

2. Modern examples of fortuitous wrongly used to mean ‘fortunate’ or ‘fortunately coincidental’ and of fortuitously in corresponding adverb senses are:

• ☒ Ellen Orford in the poem is a middle-aged woman and it was fortuitous for me that I was about the right age [to sing the role] —Joan Cross, 1983

• ☒ King successfully persuaded them to lend the collection for the exhibition…A move which proved fortuitous for the future of the national music collection —Independent, 1995

• ☒ She called for help —to her party's health spokesman,…with whom, most fortuitously, she had been dining minutes earlier —Guardian, 2007.

An unwelcome effect of this confusion is that it is not always possible to know which meaning is intended in a particular use of fortuitous, since in many cases an event can happen equally by plain chance or by good chance:

• I had already made up my mind to join the South African tour when it happened, so it was fortuitous in a way —Today, 1992

• He returns to St Petersburg to claim a fortuitous inheritance —Times, 2003

• The dossier was fortuitously found by a Labour staffer —Independent, 2007.

Fortuitous is too useful in its primary meaning for this uncertainty to be acceptable, and care should be taken not to use it when fortunate or a similar word such as propitious is the word intended. In the following examples, fortuitous is used in its proper sense:

• His presence was not fortuitous. He has a role to play; and you will see him again —A. Brink, 1979

• Quite fortuitously, Morse lights upon a set of college rooms which he had no original intention of visiting —Colin Dexter, 1983

• In some instances death is caused fortuitously —M. Jefferson, 1992

• Things come to a head when they all go to the country together. Is it a fortuitous accident or a cunning plot? —Sunday Times, 2005.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Fortuitous — For*tu i*tous, a. [L. fortuitus; akin to forte, adv., by chance, prop. abl. of fors, fortis, chance. See {Fortune}.] 1. Happening by chance; coming or occuring unexpectedly, or without any known cause; chance; as, the fortuitous concourse of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • fortuitous — I adjective accidental, adventitious, casual, chance, circumstantial, coincidental, designless, forte oblatus, fortuitus, haphazard, happening by chance, involuntary, lucky, occurring by chance, providential, random, spontaneous, surprise,… …   Law dictionary

  • fortuitous — 1650s, from L. fortuitus happening by chance, casual, accidental, from forte by chance, ablative of fors chance (related to fortuna; see FORTUNE (Cf. fortune)). It means accidental, undesigned not fortunate. Earlier in this sense was fortuit… …   Etymology dictionary

  • fortuitous — *accidental, contingent, casual, incidental, adventitious Analogous words: *random, haphazard, chance, chancy, hit or miss Contrasted words: activated, actuated, motivated (see ACTIVATE): planned, projected, designed, schemed, plotted (see… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • fortuitous — [adj] lucky, accidental arbitrary, casual, chance, contingent, fluke*, fluky*, fortunate, haphazard, happy, incidental, luck in*, luck out*, lucky dog*, odd, providential, random, serendipitous, unforeseen, unplanned; concepts 548,552 Ant.… …   New thesaurus

  • fortuitous — ► ADJECTIVE 1) happening by chance rather than design. 2) happening by a lucky chance; fortunate. DERIVATIVES fortuitously adverb fortuitousness noun fortuity noun (pl. fortuities) . ORIGIN Latin fortuitus, from forte …   English terms dictionary

  • fortuitous — [fôr to͞o′ə təs, fôrtyo͞o′ə təs] adj. [L fortuitus < forte, by chance < fors (gen. fortis), chance, luck < IE * bhr̥tis < base * bher , to bring > BEAR1] 1. happening by chance; accidental 2. bringing, or happening by, good luck;… …   English World dictionary

  • fortuitous — fortuitously, adv. fortuitousness, n. /fawr tooh i teuhs, tyooh /, adj. 1. happening or produced by chance; accidental: a fortuitous encounter. 2. lucky; fortunate: a series of fortuitous events that advanced her career. [1645 55; < L fortuitus,… …   Universalium

  • fortuitous — adjective 1) a fortuitous resemblance Syn: chance, adventitious, unexpected, unanticipated, unpredictable, unforeseen, unlooked for, serendipitous, casual, incidental, coincidental, random, accidental, inadvertent, unintentional, unintended …   Thesaurus of popular words

  • fortuitous — for•tu•i•tous [[t]fɔrˈtu ɪ təs, ˈtyu [/t]] adj. 1) happening or produced by chance; accidental: a fortuitous encounter[/ex] 2) lucky; fortunate • Etymology: 1645–55; < L fortuitus, akin to fors, gen. fortis chance, luck for•tu′i•tous•ly, adv.… …   From formal English to slang

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