• kismet •
Pronunciation: kiz-mit • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Islam) the will of Allah. 2. Fate, destiny, one's lot, implying fatalism, predestination.
Notes: Today's Good Word is simply prettier than fatalism or predestination, though it means pretty much the same: some external force controls our destiny. Actual story: My sister has a fear of flying. Her husband, defending her from the ribbing she was receiving (again) at the Thanksgiving table, suggested kismet to her, "If it's your time to go, you'll go no matter where you are." My father thought a while, then put up the best defense of my sister's position: "What if it's the pilot's time to go?" Kismet has no derivational family; it is a lexical orphan.
In Play: We often think of how we met our future spouses in terms of kismet (good or bad), but none so much as Jack Winter in his famous New Yorker article of 1994, "How I Met My Wife". It must have been kismet that the music of Alexander Borodin fell upon the ears of Edwin Lester, director of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, and made him think it would make a good musical comedy, called Kismet (1953).
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from Turkish kismet from Persian qismat from Arabic qisma(t) "portion, lot, fate". The root of this word comes from the root of qasama "he divided". The meaning of this word wandered from "to divide" to "practice divination", while the noun from this word qisma(t), moved on from "divination" to "kismet". The word is used in the Muslim world now in the sense of "luck". The same root descended to Modern Hebrew, another Semitic language, as qosem "magic". (It was sheer kismet that James Bish and his affectionate wife Eileen couldn't agree on the meaning of today's Good Word, and turned to Dr. Goodword for help.)