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

He is a hapless person


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?

2 Answers 2


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".

  • both wonderful answers, thanks Alain and Thursagen. Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 12:25
  • 1
    @yahoo301503, thanks to you for this actually very good question. Commented Aug 5, 2011 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
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 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. Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 21:48
  • Isn't "happenstance" from "happening" and "circumstance", not "happy"?
    – wfaulk
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 14:14

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

one's luck or lot.

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


"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).

  • Typo, wrong tense, slip of the keyboard or pen
    – Thursagen
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 11:54

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