Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I would like to know what the origin of hapless is. For example,

He is a hapless person

means

He is an unfortunate person.

Has it got anything to do with the fact that hapless people live their lives with no good things hap-pening to them? Was there hapful or a similar word back in the times?

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers 2

up vote 53 down vote accepted

This is right; hap is a root that appears in many English words and its original meaning is indeed that of "good luck". It is traced back to Old Norse (the language spoken by the Viking invaders who entered the English scene during the 9th century.

In Old Norse, you would have these two words:

  • happ good luck, good fortune.
  • óhapp bad luck, bad fortune.

So that hapless is a synonym for ill fated. This root appears in many English words.

  • happy of course, since good luck brings happiness. This is common in various languages: for instance in German, "glücklich" means both happy and fortunate.
  • perhaps: by any chance. There used to be also mayhaps, now archaic.
  • to happen, here good luck is closer to the more neutral sense of chance.
  • haphazard, which has a connotation of risk because you leave something to chance.
  • a mishap, an unlucky accident.
  • more recently coined words are happenstance (from happening + circumstance) or happenchance.

In Old English you would find gehaep for "convenient,suitable".

share|improve this answer
    
both wonderful answers, thanks Alain and Thursagen. –  yahoo301503 Aug 5 '11 at 12:25
1  
@yahoo301503, thanks to you for this actually very good question. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Aug 5 '11 at 18:05
    
It's only partially true that "glücklich" means both happy and lucky in German. When applied to a person, it always means "happy"; in expressions like "glückliche Wahl", "glückliche Hand", "glücklicher Zufall", "glücklicher Umstand", "glückliche Fügung" it means "fortunate" and may or may not imply chance. The noun "Glück", on the other hand, usually means "luck", and its use in the sense of "happiness" is slightly obsolescent except in compounds like "Kinderglück". –  joriki Aug 9 '11 at 13:36
    
@joriki Danke, ich hatte das tatsächlich nicht vollstandig realisiert. I should probably have written "fortunate". I found an exhaustive study and a thesaurus to match "Im Deutsche Wörterbuch der Brüder Grimm". I'm correcting the answer. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Aug 9 '11 at 21:48
    
Isn't "happenstance" from "happening" and "circumstance", not "happy"? –  wfaulk Aug 10 '11 at 14:14
show 1 more comment

"Hapless" came from the word "hap", which means:

one's luck or lot.

Thus, "hapless" would mean luckless, or unfortunate, unlucky.

Etymonline.com:

"unfortunate," c.1400, from hap (n.) in the sense "good luck" + -less.

Although "hap" has the meaning of "occurrence, happening, event", "hapless" came from "hap"'s meaning of "luck", not it's other meaning(the above).

share|improve this answer
    
Typo, wrong tense, slip of the keyboard or pen –  Thursagen Aug 10 '11 at 11:54
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.