Thursday, September 20, 2007


An acquaintance with a very high handicap shot an unexpectedly good round of golf the other day. The rest of us in the foursome hastened to assure him, as friends are wont to do, that the whole thing was a fluke that wouldn’t happen again.

Fluke in that sense is a stroke of good luck, a happy accident. It seems to have no connection to other senses of the word fluke, but we do know that it arose from the game of billiards or pool somewhere in the late 1850s.

Underlying other senses of the word fluke seems to be the concept of flatness, the primal image being a calm, flat sea surface. Words related through the Indo-European root plak- include ice floe, flake, flagstone, plank, and placenta.

In one of its meanings, a fluke is a flat fish or a parasitic worm, so the flatness theme certainly runs through that.

Another fluke has several meanings:

• the triangular blade of an anchor, designed to grab the ground
• the barbed head of a lance or arrow
• the large triangular tail of a whale

Triangularity or barbedness seems to be the unifying force there, but notice that all of these items are relatively flat.

SIDEBAR: Fluke, the movie

SIDEBAR: Fluke, the band

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