Many sources (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, for a start) suggest the word "fluke" has mostly positive connotations when used in the sense of "accident." That is, "a fluke" properly describes a lucky accident, not just any accident.

However, I sometimes hear this word used to refer to negative and to unmarked accidents. Is such usage, strictly speaking, correct?

To me, the best proof in support would be an example of the broader use by a first-rate writer.

  • Basically, "fluke" means "unusual/unexpected situation". (Yes, what you might call a "lucky accident".) As such, it does not inherently carry a strongly positive or negative connotation, though I would say other terms are more likely to be used for a negative situation. But it's a rarely-used term, and finding good examples of its use from known authors is likely to be difficult. – Hot Licks May 25 '16 at 20:36
  • It's easy to find examples from literature of "fluke" meaning a lucky accident. Are you interested in these, or are you only interested in literary examples of "fluke" that mean an unlucky accident or a accident that is neither lucky nor unlucky? – ab2 May 25 '16 at 21:09
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    The positive aspect of the word occurs when it is breaded, fried, and served on a plate with tartar sauce. Well, not so positive for the fish. – Mitch May 25 '16 at 21:31
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    The Scots word "flook", attested 1846 as a variation on the English "flux", is a word for diarrhea ... an often unexpected situation. This has not been mentioned before as a a possible origin. – MetaEd May 25 '16 at 21:46
  • @ab2 I'm interested only in the special case--using "fluke" for neutral or (preferably) unlucky accidents. – SAH May 26 '16 at 4:15

The OP said:

To me, the best proof in support would be an example of the broader use by a first-rate writer

Here is an example of fluke being used, first as an unlucky accident, and second, as a lucky accident. The quotation is perhaps too long, but it illustrates that the first speaker used fluke as unlucky, and the second as lucky. From E. Phillips Oppenheim, The Vanished Messenger

"But how on earth did you get to know about me," Mr. Dunster asked, "and my errand? You couldn't possibly have got me here in an ordinary way. It was an entire fluke."

"There, you speak with some show of reason. I have a nephew whom you have met, who is devoted to me."

"Mr. Gerald Fentolin," Mr. Dunster remarked drily.

"Precisely," Mr. Fentolin declared. "Well, I admit frankly the truth of what you say. Your - shall we say capture, was by way of being a gigantic fluke. My nephew's instructions simply were to travel down by the train to Harwich with you, to endeavour to make your acquaintance, to follow you on to your destination, and, if any chance to do so occurred, to relieve you of your pocket-book. That, however, I never ventured to expect. What really happened was, as you have yourself suggested, almost in the nature of a miracle. My nephew showed himself to be possessed of gifts which were a revelation to me. He not only succeeded in travelling with you by the special train, but after its wreck he was clever enough to bring you here, instead of delivering you over to the mercies of a village doctor. I really cannot find words to express my appreciation of my nephew's conduct."

"I could," Mr. Dunster muttered, "very easily!"

As for the neutral meaning of fluke, I cite from The Free Dictionary

A chance occurrence: That spring snowstorm was a total fluke

(There are other dictionary definitions of fluke that support a neutral or negative meaning, but this answer is too long already.)

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As far as I know, none of the authors of the following examples are considered to be "first-rate" by anyone (which helps make whatever "evidence" that's contained below fall well short of the "best proof" that you seek), but I’m most familiar with hearing and seeing “fluke” used negatively when the subject is disappointing performances, grades, or test results that might be the result of accidental aberrations or anomalies, such as:

I was tempted to offer a second interview to see if her poor performance was a fluke.

(from Crazy Good Interviewing: How Acting A Little Crazy Can Get You The Job by John B. Molidor [with emphasis added], via ‘Google Books’)


[I’d] review the reports very carefully to see if there was a problem or if the results were a fluke.

(from Finding the Best and the Brightest: A Guide to Recruiting, Selecting, and Retaining Effective Leaders by Peg Thoms [with emphasis added], via ‘Google Books’)


[W]hen I got a D last week … I thought it was a fluke, but now I have to admit that I’m floundering here.

(paraphrased, with emphasis added, from Trapped: Caught in a Lie by Melody Carlson, via ‘Google Books’)

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    Don't tell anybody, but I don't think E. Phillips Oppenheim is a first rate writer either. – ab2 May 26 '16 at 0:56
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    Upvote for admitting your authors aren't first rate (although I must admit I thought the fluke/flounder mixed metaphor was inspired) – SAH May 26 '16 at 4:19

"We are quick to dismiss such results as the statistical flukes they almost certainly are"

--Peter W. Huber, Hard Green: Saving The Environment from the Environmentalists

He's a good writer; no further

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