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I'm aware a search will turn up many discussions on the differences or interchangeability of these terms, but it would be good to get some answers here with an emphasis on the etymology of the two words. Does the usage history of these words add connotations beyond their dictionary definitions?

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Fate is more fatalistic. No one is ever left to his destiny. –  Uticensis Apr 28 '11 at 14:13
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Don't use either. Stick with wyrd. –  JSBձոգչ Apr 28 '11 at 14:39
    
I prefer weird –  TimLymington Jul 22 '11 at 15:07

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Fate is from the Latin fatum, which means "that which has been spoken."
Destiny is from the Latin destinare, which means "to make firm" or "to establish."

I agree with Billare that fate has a more fatalistic feel (fatalistic also comes from fatum), as it has a deeper implication of one's end being decided by a separate entity.

Reference: the NOAD.

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From Wikipedia:

...fate relates to events of the past and is proven to be true and unalterable, whereas destiny relates to the probable to almost certain future. Note that it is only almost certain and not absolutely certain, allowing for change to occur. This can be seen in our common language usage, e.g. "His calling, his destiny is to be a doctor." Will he definitely be a doctor? Well, it remains to be seen.

I apologise in advance for the lack of original examples and more authoritative sources, but perhaps further research into the use of 'fate' and 'destiny' in both classic and modern literary texts will help.

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To me, "fate" sounds more likely to be used in a negative context, while "destiny" is (generally) more positive. Headline examples:

Waiting for word on fate of kidnapped American

Super Bowl win was destiny for Saints

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As reported by the Online Etymology Dictionary, the etymology of the words is the following:

  • fate
    Late 14th century, from Latin fata, neuter plural of fatum ("prophetic declaration, oracle, prediction," thus "that which is ordained, destiny, fate"), literary "thing spoken (by the gods)," from neuter past participle of fari ("to speak"), from PIE *bha- ("speak"). The Latin sense evolution is from "sentence of the Gods" (Greek theosphaton) to "lot, portion" (Greek moira, personified as a goddess in Homer), also "one of the three goddesses (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos) who determined the course of a human life." Related: Fated; fating. The native word was wyrd.

  • destiny
    middle 14th century, from Old French destinée ("purpose, intent, fate, destiny; that which is destined,") feminine past participle of destiner, from Latin destinare ("make firm, establish"). The sense is of "that which has been firmly established," as by fate.

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Like definitions I've seen elsewhere, he uses fate to help define destiny, and vice versa. Interesting. –  Callithumpian Apr 28 '11 at 21:14
    
@Callithumpian What I think it is more interesting is the evolution of the Latin sense of fate. –  kiamlaluno Apr 28 '11 at 22:22

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