No, really, what does fortuitous mean?

Mungo MacCallum has coined more than his share of memorable phrases. He quotes poetry and can work up an excellent bush ballad. His prose is generally witty and lucid. He’s not an academic, he’s a writer. In the current Quarterly Essay, which I’ll say more about in a day or two, he writes this:

From the start [non-Indigenous Australians] showed a preference for the young tree green of a new land over the old dead tree of Europe, which was in any case so remote as to be, for all practical purposes, irrelevant. Geoffrey Blainey’s ‘tyranny of distance’ was frequently seen not as a curse but as a blessing. Australia was fortuitously and proudly girt by sea.

I can’t make that fortuitous mean `happening by chance’, whether to one’s advantage or not. The word has clearly taken leave of its dictionary meaning. As in the example I quoted a couple of weeks ago, it seems to be a kind of intensification of fortunate, almost an equivalent of providential for those of us who no longer believe in Providence.

What do you think? Mungo, are you there?

One response to “No, really, what does fortuitous mean?

  1. I love this stuff. I will join your shining crew of crusaders who seek to point out the finer meanings of words and their modern, perhaps lesser usages.


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