• hapless •
Pronunciation: hæp-lis • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Without hap, success, or fortune; unlucky, unfruitful.
Notes: Today's Good Word would appear to be another genuine orphan negative. This resulted from the shift of the meaning of its positive correlate, happy, from "fortuitous, by chance" to "in good spirits". It was reinforced toward the end of the 19th century by the loss of hap "luck, fortune", the noun these adjectives were derived from. Today we are left with only the adverb, haplessly, and haplessness, the noun, both offspring of hapless itself.
In Play: Today's Good Word is a slightly more poetic word for unlucky or simply unfruitful: "After a hapless romance with Dawn Bright, Phil Anders returned to college for an advanced degree in social psychology." In Yiddish a hapless person is known as a schlimazel, someone for whom nothing goes right. This word is also widespread in the English of the Central Atlantic US states.
Word History: Today's Good Word has a few scattered distant cousins like mishap and happen "occur by chance", all based on the now defunct noun hap. This stem has had hard luck in other languages too. It appeared in Sanskrit as kob "premonition", and also arose in Old Slavic in essentially the same form. However, the word did not survive into the modern Indic (Hindi, Marathi, etc.) or modern Slavic languages, such as Russian, Polish, or Czech. (It was certainly our good hap that Jeremy Busch brought today's curiously isolated Good Word to our attention.)