I'm translating a German press release about a product that became a great tool/solution, but it had never been intended to be developed like that in the first place. It more or less happened by accident.*

I came up with this translation:

Few developments that turn out to be good have been intended and meticulously planned from the start.

This is a rather literal translation, but it sounds quite awkward. Is there any idiom for something that turns out better than expected and wasn't planned as such?

* For reference, in German, it's “Nicht alle guten Entwicklungen waren von Anfang an beabsichtigt und penibel geplant. Auch die Initialzündung für XXX geschah mehr oder minder zufällig.”


2 Answers 2


There is the well known proverb

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.


Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

Something great can come from a modest beginning.

  • Don't give up on the project – mighty oaks from little acorns grow!


This is probably more often used as an encouragement than an observation.

I prefer the W C Fields adaptation;

'From the little acorn ...

the mighty oak did grow.'

  • I am afraid this sounds too poetic in that context (technical press release), but I like the description "something great can come from a modest beginning."
    – slhck
    Feb 2, 2021 at 18:56

I'm assuming you're looking for a word since the title says that. I remember having read somewhere Charles Goodyear's accidental discovery of vulcanization being described as serendipity. I believe that should apply to the context you've provided as well:

The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.

The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.

[American Heritage Dictionary]

  • Actually the title says "word or phrase", so it doesn't have to be a single word. Could you perhaps show me how you'd use that word in the particular context?
    – slhck
    Feb 2, 2021 at 18:55
  • 1
    Yes, I think this is ideal. I've always associated it with Goodyear's discovery of the vulcanisation of rubber, Fleming's discovery of the antibacterial properties of penicillin. Though I don't believe that these were pure 'chance'. Feb 2, 2021 at 19:06
  • @Edwin Ashworth— Thanks a lot. An imprimatur from someone of your caliber definitely means a lot!!
    – user405662
    Feb 2, 2021 at 19:43
  • It's nice to have someone use the word 'caliber' rather than 'bore'. Feb 2, 2021 at 19:52
  • In all honesty I meant it as a compliment, Sir! :)
    – user405662
    Feb 2, 2021 at 19:54

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