Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: fortuitous; fortunate.

fortuitous; fortunate. Strictly speaking, “fortuitous” means “occurring by chance.” E.g.: “Unless the victim dies, the law cannot assume that the transgressor really meant to kill — even though whether the victim lives or dies might be entirely fortuitous.” Jerome H. Skolnick, “A Capital Offense Spared by Luck?” L.A. Times, 27 Aug. 1993, at B7. But of course, the word is commonly misused for “fortunate,” in itself an unfortunate thing — e.g.: “That Smoltz would be so fortuitous [read ‘fortunate’ or ‘lucky’] is something of a good howl in itself, given all the cruel twists in his career.” Tom Verducci, “Eye Opener,” Sports Illustrated, 10 June 1996, at 46. In the phrases “fortuitous accident” and “fortuitous coincidence,” the word “fortuitous” bears the right sense but is redundant: every accident or coincidence is fortuitous. Writers using those phrases, though, almost invariably mean “fortunate” or “lucky” — e.g.: “Without that fortuitous accident [read ‘lucky accident’] of layout, even Conran’s space might have stayed empty.” Claudia H. Deutsch, “The Shops at Citicorp Center,” N.Y. Times, 16 June 1996, § 9, at 10. For more information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “You have to go by feel, not by rule.” Rudolf Flesch, The Art of Readable Writing 97 (1949).
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