Daily Archives: 11 March 2010

Another fortuitous incident

From page 257 of Amy Wilentz’s book on Haiti, The Rainy Season (about which I’ll write more very soon):

When Duvalier fell, movements like Chavannes’, which had maintained a fairly low profile under Duvalier, burst out into the open and grew rapidly, only to discover that the network of power they thought had been undone by the Dechoukaj [literally ‘uprooting, as of a tree’, of the old regime] was still in place and ready to strike back at them when the time should prove fortuitous.

Amy Wilentz is no slouch as a writer. Her prose is finely tuned, her feel for language strong. The word as used here, as by any number of other thoughtful writers, just doesn’t mean – can’t mean – what the dictionary says it means: ‘happening by chance’. But I don’t recall seeing it used quite this way before, as a synonym for ‘opportune’.

This is why I’m fascinated by the word: it’s in such a state of flux that its meaning wanders all over the place: providential, lucky, opportune. It has an almost wild-card quality.