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Where Does “Happiness” Come From? The Word, That Is…

Where does "Happiness" Come From? The Word that is...It’s summertime and the living is easy…my mind – ever on happiness – has wandered to the question, “Where does the word come from?”

And so I set to finding out…  Here for your beach-reading pleasure, is a breakdown of “happiness” in all its glory:

“Hap” the noun comes up around 1200 with the following meanings, “chance, a person’s luck, fortune, fate;” also “unforeseen occurrence,” from Old Norse happ “chance, good luck,” from Proto-Germanic *hap- (source of Old English gehæp“convenient, fit”.  Meaning “good fortune” is from early 13th century. “Hap” as a verb (I apologize for bringing up grammar when school’s out.) means “to happen” appeared in the next century.

“Happen” the verb also originated in 1300, “to come to pass, occur,” originally “occur by hap, to have the (good or bad) fortune (to do, be, etc.); in Middle English fel it hap meant “it happened.”

“What’s happening, Man?” may have been popular in the 60s, but the word first appeared in the mid-fifteenth century as “chance, luck” from present participle of “happen” (Your grammar teacher is probably smiling now.) meaning “occurrence”.  Sense of “spontaneous event or display” is from 1959 in the language of artists that then migrated to hippiedom. The idea of “happenings” goes back as far as 1905.

“Happily” (Adverb – “ly” ending)  is mid-14th century, “by chance or accident,” from “happy “+ “ly”. Meaning “fortunate, lucky” is late 1400s; that of “appropriately” is from the 1570s. Happily ever after was recorded by 1853.

“Happiness” first makes its appearance in the 1520s meaning “good fortune” from “happy” + “ness” Meaning “pleasant and contented mental state” is from the 1590s.

“Happy” the describing word comes up in the  late 14th century meaning, “lucky, favored by fortune, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from “hap” (see earlier) “chance, fortune” +  “y”.  Its sense of “very glad” was first recorded at this time.  From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.”

And in terms of joining “happy” to other words, there are many variations: used in World War II and after as a suffix (as in bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happy medium is from 1778. Happy ending in the literary sense recorded from 1756. Happy as a clam (1630s) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten. Happy hunting ground, the reputed Indian paradise, is attested from 1840, American English.  And interestingly enough,  happy go lucky  in the 1670s was used as an adverb meaning “haphazard;” the adjective, of persons, was recorded from 1856.

I think it appropriate to close with “happy hour” (first recorded in 1961 – the likes of Mad Men have made their mark).  Hope this has proven a pleasant diversion for you.  Have a drink on me and Hap + Y summer to you!

For more posts by Kita Szpak please visit here.


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