Lucky flukes and devils
FLUKE is one of those wonderful words that have changed meaning drastically over time. Eight hundred years ago, a fluke was a type of flat fish. It was also the nickname for Trematoda, a group of flat-looking parasitic worms that includes the tapeworm. The vermian nickname persists today.
Five hundred years ago, a fluke was the rounded part of a whale’s tail, or a type of anchor that was shaped like a whale’s tail.
Today’s meaning comes from billiards. The first fluke appeared in text in 1857. It referred to a shot whereby you miss the ball you are aiming for, yet strike another ball in such a way that you score points or somehow disadvantage your opponent.
As a lucky fluke is a tautology, using the word fluke by itself is better English.
Example: The goal wasn’t a fluke! It was the result of brilliant footwork.
To luck out
To be successful thanks to a lucky event in difficult or dan- Some people think we make our own luck, while others say luck is random. gerous circumstances.
This American expression burst into life in the 1950s and remains popular today. It may have been inspired by the synonymous expression to luck upon that was popular in the 1600s and 1700s. That particular phrase disappeared for 200 years, popped up briefly in the 1940s, and vanished again.
Another related phrase, to luck into meaning to become lucky through chance or accident, also appeared in the 1950s and remains popular too.
Example: Sue thought she was going to fail but she lucked out with an easy oral exam and scraped a pass.
To thank your lucky stars
To be grateful for some good luck.
Shakespeare talked of lucky stars in his play All’s Well That Ends Well that was staged in 1623, but the idea of the constellations influencing your fortune, destiny and character is so old that it goes back to the 13th century, when modern English first developed.
Country and western fans who remember Lee Marvin’s hit, I was Born Under a Wandering Star, from the 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon, might be interested to know that Shakespeare used the phrase born under a charitable star, meaning that the person was generous in All’s Well too.
Example: When Amy heard the bus had crashed, she thanked her lucky stars she’d missed it.
To take potluck
To accept whatever is given to you, without knowing whether it is good or bad.
The original potluck appeared in Tudor times when unexpected guests would take the luck of the pot and eat whatever their host had cooked that day. From this the concept of the potluck dinner arose.
Modern potluck dinners are parties where everyone brings one particular dish that is big enough to share. However, hosts with foresight fudge the “luck” element by asking people to cook a starter, a salad, a pudding, etc. This prevents potlucks where everyone brings potato salad.
Example: The theatre show was cancelled so we went to the cinema and took potluck.
The best of British luck!
Officially, this is something you say when you want to encourage someone to do something. However, it is mostly used ironically, implying that the person either won’t have any luck, or there isn’t a chance of him achieving whatever it is he has set out to do.
Interestingly, a search through old texts reveals that Victorians wrote of “British luck” as being far superior to the sort of luck foreigners might have. The new ironical meaning first appeared in the 1960s. There is food for thought here if you’re interested in imperialism.
Example: You’re going to climb Everest and find the abominable snowman? Well, best of British luck to you!
To have the devil’s own luck
To be extremely fortunate. Also to have the luck of the devil, to be a lucky devil, and to have the luck of the Irish.
This slightly old-fashioned expression comes from the many old stories where the devil is a cunning individual who manipulates circumstances to suit himself. Despite the use of the word devil, this expression doesn’t mean the lucky person concerned is cunning, evil or using any supernatural means.
If you use the alternative phrase, the luck of the Irish, be aware that it changes meaning depending on context. It can mean to be very lucky, to be lucky even though you are a fool, to have bad luck, and to have very good luck followed by very bad luck.
Because this term has such contradictory meanings, it’s often the subject of heated debates in language forums. If you use it, be prepared to explain your context!
Example: Raj won the lottery twice last year. He’s got the devil’s own luck.