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Pure luck, blind luck and dumb luck, are expressions used to refer to:

  • complete luck; nothing but plain luck. I have no skill. I won by pure luck. (McGraw-Hill Dictionary) (Macmillandictionary.com)
  • Curiously, as Ngram shows, the three expressions "pure luck, blind luck, dumb luck." have all been used from the same period, the middle of the 18th century.

1) The use of pure is quite intuitive and refers to something

  • Complete; utter: pure folly. (AHD)

2) The use of blind refers to e the Roman goodness "Fortuna" (Lady Luck nowadays)

  • Fortuna (Latin: Fortūna, equivalent to the Greek goddess Tyche) was the goddess of fortune and personification of luck in Roman religion. She might bring good luck or bad: she could be represented as veiled and blind, as in modern depictions of Justice, and came to represent life's capriciousness. (Wikipedia)

~ But what does 'dumb' refer to? How was it that this term came to be associated with luck?

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Dumb luck is a chance event that has no meaning behind it. It's one that's completely random.

Dumb did not originally mean foolish and ignorant. It first meant having no voice, and thence meaningless and senseless, and that latter aspect of meaninglessness and senselessness is the very sense in which it was first applied to luck or chance.

The foolish sense came afterwards, and although it is now the dominant one, it does not apply here. Rather, dumb luck is a fossilized example of the more ancient sense: it is not an example of the present-day sense of foolish.

This more ancient sense of dumb is the one given by OED sense 7a meaning senseless, which it classifies as now rare. Note the reference to dumb chance — which is the same as dumb luck — found in the third citation.

7a. Saying nothing to the understanding; inexpressive, meaningless; stupid, senseless. Now rare.

  • 1531 Tindale Exp. 1 John (1537) 53 ― They wyl breake in to thy conscience, as the byshop of Rome doeth with his domme traditions.
  • 1542–5 Brinklow Lament. lf. 18 b, ― A popishe Masse··is to the people a domme, yea a deade ceremonye.
  • 1643 Sir T. Browne Relig. Med. i. §17 ― ’Twas not dumbe chance, that··contrived a miscarriage in the Letter.

The original meaning of dumb is the one that has no voice, carried by senses 1–6. Sense 7b is the later one meaning foolish and ignorant as applied to persons.

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  • Yes, the issue is why "dumb" meaning foolish, ignorant is applied to luck. My suspect is tha it is a cultural thing, Latin (blind, that makes no distinction, absolutely random) vs Germanic - Anglo Saxon dumb, stupid. There is an element of judgment in defining pure luck as dumb...IMO. – user66974 Aug 9 '15 at 13:22
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    @Josh61 That’s putting the cart before the horse. It did not originally mean foolish and ignorant. It first meant having no voice, and thence meaningless and senseless, and that latter aspect of meaninglessness and senselessness is the very sense in which it was first applied to luck or chance. The foolish sense came afterwards, and is now the dominant one. Dumb luck is a fossilized example of the more ancient sense, not an example of the present-day sense of foolish. – tchrist Aug 9 '15 at 13:24
  • Interesting finding, I guess that those who use this expression are likely to think that dumb is used with the current meaning. See @ruakh comment below for instance. – user66974 Aug 9 '15 at 15:30
  • The real question is why nobody says deaf luck. We’ve got the two other monkeys covered, but that one seems to have been rather cruelly left out, poor thing. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 9 '15 at 16:23
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"Dumb" meaning lacking in intelligence. Thus emphasizing that the outcome came about by means other than intelligent planning.

From The Illustrated American (Volume 3, 1890):

Does judgment enable a man to win at a horse-race, or does success require that higher and rarer quality, dumb luck?

From Puck (Volume 49, 1901) below a sketch of bowlers, one of whom has knocked down all the pins, the following exchange:

Huzza! That look like bowling!"
"Thou thinkest it skill, then, and not dumb luck?"
"Oh, well, dumb luck may look like bowling!"

(emphases mine)

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  • +1. Note that "mindless luck" and "stupid luck" are also attested (albeit nowhere near as common). In some cases, it borders on hypallage. – ruakh Aug 9 '15 at 7:56
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    @Josh61 I've added cites, but are they really necessary? Is there some chance that the meaning isn't clear from the usage? – deadrat Aug 9 '15 at 9:03
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    @deadrat - what may appear obvious to you, may not be to other users. The community is international and the use of 'dumb' referring to luck may be intuitive but may sound unusual with respect to 'pure or blind' to non-native speakers. That is actually the sense of my question. In French, Spanish or Italian, you have 'blind luck' but not 'dumb luck'. – user66974 Aug 9 '15 at 11:49
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    'Lacking in intelligence' is synonymous with 'stupid' according to Collins: stupid adj 1. lacking in common sense, perception, or normal intelligence. Thus deficient in rather than totally lacking (common) sense. tchrist's answer + comment is far more persuasive that the sense of dumb first associated with dumb[e] luck / chance was the total lack of sense / meaninglessness one. And you ask ' Is there some chance that the meaning isn't clear from the usage?' – Edwin Ashworth Aug 9 '15 at 13:57
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    The question crystallised thus: 'But what does 'dumb' refer to? How was it that this term came to be associated with luck?' – Edwin Ashworth Aug 9 '15 at 14:42
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With respect, I believe the specific term "Dumb Luck" has distinct -- and much older origins. I suggest it may derive from the Latin phrases "fortuna favet fatuis" (Fortune favors fools) and/or "fortuna nimium quen fovet, stultum facit" {loosely, fortune often favors a fool). The reason I offer this distinction is that this sort of luck seems to me NOT to represent "pure" or "random" bestowals of good fortune -- aka "Luck in the usual context" -- but rather an ancient human conviction that the gods (or demigods) are by nature capricious. And so they frequently seem to take delight in choosing non-intuitive ways in which to express their powers, especially as regards fortune -- or Luck. "A familiar commonplace to Shakespeare and his contemporaries was encapsulated in the proverb "Fortune favors fools" or its Latin ancestor, Fortuna favet fatuis. Erasmus wittily exploited this idea in his Moriae Encomium [1509] when Folly begins a short discussion of her relationship with Fortune saying, "Fortune, the directrix of human affairs, favors me while she has always been very hostile to the wise."" (from folgerpedia.folger.edu/Fortune:_All_is_But_Fortune).

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    Hello, sixataf. This has the makings of a good (possibly the one correct) answer. But answers on ELU need to be accompanied by supporting evidence, and not be apparently opinion-based ("seems to me" / "Just sayin' "). Can you find an authority supporting (or even considering as being possibly correct) your views? – Edwin Ashworth Feb 11 '18 at 22:47
  • Certainly sir -- – sixataf Feb 11 '18 at 22:48
  • Please see the following, regarding Shakespeare's play Timon of Athens: books.google.com/…. This authoritative source states, inter alia, "Charles Beauclerk has also noted how the allegorical figure of fortune seems to reign over Timon (the word occurs 30 times in the play)" . . . – sixataf Feb 11 '18 at 23:13
  • And, the Painter observes: "'Tis common. A thousand moral paintings I can show, That shall demonstrate these quick blows of Fortune's, More pregnantly than words. Yet you do well, To show Lord Timon that mean eyes have seen, The foot above the head." (I.ii.86-96). Now granted, this passage is a commentary on ill-luck rather than good luck, but at the end, it turns out that Timon (although he perished) was luckier than he knew. I hope this answers your very keen challenge to provide footnotes. However, if this is not sufficient, I believe I can provide additional references. – sixataf Feb 11 '18 at 23:13
  • I'm talking about justification for your '['dumb' luck is connected to the believed capriciousness of what were seen as gods resulting in their favour given to those usually considered unlikely to succeed, expressed in the saying] Fortune favors fools' rather than tchrist's 'Dumb did not originally mean foolish and ignorant. It first meant having no voice, and thence meaningless and senseless ...'. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 11 '18 at 23:25
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The use of "dumb" here is an emphasiser.

The use of "luck" already states that the event in question arose through luck rather than planning, but to further point out that luck is "dumb" reminds us that luck has no intelligence, forethought or awareness.

The inclusion of the word doesn't modify "luck" and it doesn't change the meaning of the encapsulating phrase.

It is a bit like:

This absurd business decision that has left us standing in the mud was made by that stupid Tim.

One assumes the audience already knows Tim is stupid; this just reminds us that this fact was responsible for his making a silly decision.

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