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I came across a news article mentioning a coroner's diagnosis of death as "death by misadventure". And I wondered what the word misadventure actually meant.

Here's the dictionary definition :

misadventure [ˌmɪsədˈvɛntʃə] n

  1. an unlucky event; misfortune

  2. (Law) Law accidental death not due to crime or negligence

This surprised me, as I would have expected it to essentially mean "an adventure that went wrong". That doesn't seem to be the case. It seems to mean "an incident that went wrong". So wouldn't it make more sense for the word to be mis-venture?

Why is this not the case?

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Because we generally associate the noun venture with financial risk, as in venture capital and a business venture, and just because the legal definition is old, from Middle English and Old French. – user21497 Jan 8 '13 at 10:05
@BillFranke I doubt Baden-Powell was thinking of financial risk when he formed the Venture Scouts. I suspect he wanted to introduce older teenagers to novel and exciting things. And yes, I just realised how bad those sentences could sound juxtaposed. – Andrew Leach Jan 8 '13 at 10:15
I think the term "venture capital" and the financial implications of "venture" were not in prevalence when the word misadventure came into existence. Therefore, saying that "misadventure" is used rather than "misventure" due to financial implications is hmmm ... unacceptable opinion. – Blessed Geek Jan 8 '13 at 16:23
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Etymonline can help here.

late 13c., misaventure, from O.Fr. mesaventure (12c.) "accident, mishap," from mesavenir "to turn out badly;" see mis- (2) + adventure (n.).

in mischief, miscreant, etc., represents O.Fr. mes- "bad, badly, wrong, wrongly," from V.L. minus-, from L. minus "less", which was not used as a prefix.

c.1200, auenture "that which happens by chance, fortune, luck," from Old French aventure (11c.) "chance, accident, occurrence, event, happening," from Latin adventura (res) "(a thing) about to happen," from adventurus, future participle of advenire "to come to, reach, arrive at," from ad- "to" + venire "to come".

Thus misadventure means "by accident having done something which turned out badly". It's a remarkably concise and exact word and ideally suited to coroners' verdicts.

The -adventure part of misadventure doesn't mean the Boy's Own stuff of an "exciting undertaking", also mentioned by Etymonline. That meaning took three hundred years to evolve from the earlier use of adventure mentioned above.

Meaning developed through "risk/danger" (a trial of one's chances), c.1300, and "perilous undertaking" (late 14c.) and thence to "a novel or exciting incident" (1560s). Earlier it also meant "a wonder, a miracle; accounts of marvelous things" (13c.). The -d- was restored 15c.-16c. Venture is a 15c. variant.

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protected by RegDwigнt Oct 17 '13 at 15:22

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