Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Good Luck--Not!

The word "luck" can be defined many different ways. Some definitions are "the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person's life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities," "good fortune; advantage or success, considered as the result of chance" or "a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person" (dictionary.com)

I often hear people wish one another "good luck" or someone might say, "If it wasn't for back luck, I'd have none at all."

While scripture does teach that "time and chance" befalleth all (Ecclesiastes 9:11), the idea that we're subject to the forces of luck (destiny/fortune) is not scriptural. It also seems that positing luck as a causal factor of the universe clashes with the scientific account of causes and their effects. In simple terms, it's hard for me to understand how stepping on a crack has anything to do with my mom's back, or how encountering a black cat or breaking a mirror affects one's fate. Luck seems to be the kind of thing that dreams are made of.


Duncan said...


I think this all comes back to chaos theory (in reality - anti-chaos theory), relationships & interconnections so complex that we cannot perceive the divergent, exponential connections in life's resilient systems.

So standing on a crack in the pavement will always be the cause of something, just by action, but all the resulting entropy (re-arrangement) is beyond or abilities to perceive.

So unforeseen circumstances over time will always occur within our limited perceptions.

Etymology online states for "luck":-

late 15c. from early Middle Dutch luc, shortening of gheluc "happiness, good fortune," of unknown origin. It has cognates in Dutch geluk, Middle High German g(e)lücke, German Glück "fortune, good luck." Perhaps first borrowed in English as a gambling term. To be down on (one's) luck is from 1832; to be in luck is from 1900; to push (one's) luck is from 1911. Good luck as a salutation to one setting off to do something is from 1805. Expression better luck next time attested from 1802.

Then for "fortune":-

c.1300, "chance, luck as a force in human affairs," from Old French fortune "lot, good fortune, misfortune" (12c.), from Latin fortuna "chance, fate, good luck," from fors (genitive fortis) "chance, luck," possibly ultimately from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry" (see infer). If so, the sense might be "that which is brought."

Don't you just love circular definitions !

I any case it seems these terms were originally associated with gaining (striving after) monetary wealth, usually by gambling.

Edgar Foster said...


Appreciate your input. I agree that where theory is concerned, it's difficult to work out the net effect or specific effects of any given cause/set of causes. And while I concede that something likely must occur when I step on a crack, never has the back of my mother cracked because of any step I made on a sidewalk. Nor have I experienced 7 years of bad luck if I cracked or broke a mirror. The two events are not causally related--the belief that they're connected is pure superstition.

Again, I grant that unforeseen occurrences happen with some great frequency. But we'd probably both agree that chance is not some governing principle or quasi-divine power that's controlling our individual destinies.

Use/usage of words changes over time, but superstition is still alive and well. People in Las Vegas (and elsewhere) continue to blow on dice or wear their "lucky shoes" as they look for monetary gain in certain endeavors. Or what about those who play lotteries and think that certain numbers have some kind of magical power? Lastly, how about those who believe in jinxes?

Duncan said...

Yes we agree.

JMNT translates

Col 2:23 -- which things, indeed, having a message (a word; an expression) of wisdom in self-imposed observance of ritual or self-willed worship, and in humility, even in asceticism (unsparing) of [the] body, are not of any value (worth) [and lead] toward a filling up (a gratification; a satisfying) of the flesh.

εθελοθρησκεια - "self-imposed observance of ritual or self-willed worship,"

Vulgate - Col 2:23 quæ sunt rationem quidem habentia sapientiæ in superstitione, et humilitate, et non ad parcendum corpori, non in honore aliquo ad saturitatem carnis.


So, willing something to happen.

One thing can be seen from the etymology & the Germanic origins of the words we used today is that there was no such thing as bad luck - it would be something you either had or lacked.

So if things do not work out one might say "you did not want it enough".

Wearing the lucky shoes would be a ritual of desire - of will.

On a lighter note, I came across this on the web:-

"seven years bad luck

An imaginary curse said to be caused by certain actions ie: breaking a mirror/ walking under a ladder/ running over your boss's dog.

Of course, this is just an old wives tale. Except running over the boss's dog. Unless you hide the body."

Edgar Foster said...

1) interesting use of superstitione. See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Dsuperstitio

I don't think superstitio (the nominative form) has anything to do with willing, but I could be wrong.

Plutarch (45-120 CE) also penned a work entitled "On Superstition" which is available online.

2) I'm not sure what you mean by "there was no bad luck." The idea of bad luck seems to be an old concept. Black cats, evil eyes (etc) have been considered bad luck for some time. Read Homer also. You'll find moira dishing out both good and bad things to men.

3) funny stuff towards the end of your reply :)

Duncan said...

Sorry it's not very clear but the "self-willed worship" is translation of the Greek not the Latin interpretation.

Duncan said...

(ASV) Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.

(Bishops) Which thynges haue a shewe of wisdome, in superstition & humblenesse of mynde, and in hurtyng of the body, not in any honour to the satisfiyng of ye flesh.

(Geneva) Which thinges haue in deede a shewe of wisdome, in voluntarie religion and humblenesse of minde, and in not sparing the body, which are thinges of no valewe, sith they perteine to the filling of the flesh.

(YLT) which are, indeed, having a matter of wisdom in will-worship, and humble-mindedness, and neglecting of body--not in any honour, unto a satisfying of the flesh.

Edgar Foster said...


very helpful translations you quote here. As you probably also know, the Douay-Rheims bible gives a literal rendering of the Vulgate. So, Colossians 2:23 (DR):

"Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in superstition and humility, and not sparing the body; not in any honour to the filling of the flesh."

Duncan said...

Interestingly Tacitus considered Christianity to be "exitiabilis superstitio".

But I think this has something to do with effectively being atheist due to a lack of imagery or statues of deity - along with the Jews.

Moira seems quite sketchy concept.


Edgar Foster said...

It's a good dissertation that you provide in the link. See pages 2022 for a discussion that sheds light on moira, particularly as the concept is represented in Homer. Reference LSJ for the lexical data on moira.

Edgar Foster said...

that should be pages 20-22. :)

Duncan said...

I find it interesting that the moirai were triune.

Edgar Foster said...

Also see the entry for moira in lsj. It sheds light on the historical development of this idea, moira.