The Adventures of Hazard — Starring Risk, Chance, and Fortune

Some words have trod a fairly singular path through the centuries (millennia, even). Others, however, have enjoyed the jostle of a crew, a loose partnership, a theatre troupe acting out an idea…which is where we find Hazard, along with Chance, Risk, Adventure, Fortune and confreres.  Hazard comes to English from Arabic, via the Moors to Spanish azar, then over into French as hasard, then hopping the channel.  Even its Arabic root is a line dance.  One partner is az-zahr, which refers to dice in informal spoken Arabic.  Another partner is classical Arabic’s yasara, which can mean a roll of the dice but is itself also a fraternity of players: ease, abundance, accessibility, agreeable company (from which the name Yasser comes).  In classical Arabic, one of zahr‘s meanings is “flower”, and some speculate it got associated with dice in a slang sort of way because of an old custom that put a flower instead of the number one on some dice.

Coming from the fun of gaming, the early idea of hazard involved chance but often had a positive slant…like to hazard a business, to risk an adventure.  It seems this potentially provident sense is more associated with hazard as a verb.  As a noun, its meaning has trended darker.  In Spanish the “azares de la vida” are the tribulations of life, and for we Americans a hazard is exclusively an actual danger. The British and French will still hazard a guess, an opinion, an undertaking of some kind.  Americans seem to prefer other words to express an attempt, like to “try” something or “take” a chance.

Risk also might come from Arabic – rizq (providence, good fortune).  Or…from Latin’s resecum (to cut) or rixare (to quarrel), or even Greek’s risikon which they used as “root” but the Byzantines sometimes used as “chance”.  Chance comes from French’s cheance  (accident, fortune, falling dice), which comes from Latin’s cadere (to fall, opportunity, ramdomness).  Adventure starts with Latin’s venire (to come, to arrive) and spreads out as it moves through Old French into Middle English:  a thing about to happen, perilous undertaking, novel or exciting incident.  Stripped of its “ad”, venture even manages to enter the solid respectability of business – a venture, venture capital.

Fortune is the primeval diva of the group, from the archaic Proto Indo European base “bhrtis-“, then up through Latin’s fortis/fortuna (chance, Providence, luck). Something about to happen, a chance on the move, opportunity in play….yeeeee haaaa. Seriously, make her a Goddess (the Greeks and Romans did) and try to get her to roll her famous Wheel in your favor; not so seriously, go with the game and throw the dice (everybody everywhere has invented some kind of dice!).  One way or another, the crew pulls us into the dance…Do-si-do your chance, swing adventure ’round, then allemande left and circle your risk and step hazard on down the line!

Etymological illuminations brought to you by Jane.


Filed under Etymological Illuminations

3 responses to “The Adventures of Hazard — Starring Risk, Chance, and Fortune

  1. Guys, I just put an announcement about your blog on my blog! You can find it at

  2. bj

    you continue to amaze me with your genius. not only are you a caligrapher extrodinaire, a wiz at finding the zen path through life’s dense forrest, but now this.

    i bow to your many talents
    rock on!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s