“May the Force be with you.” This line from the original “Star Wars” film (1977) has to be the most repeated — and most parodied — from the entire series.
"May the Force be with you.”
This line from the original “Star Wars” film (1977) has to be the most repeated — and most parodied — from the entire series.
In the “Star Wars” universe, the Force, says Obi-Wan Kenobi, is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
In the world of Webster’s, “force” has to do with “strength; energy; vigor; power.” The word’s root is the Latin “fortis,” meaning “strong.”
Other members of this word family include “fort,” “forte,” “fortify,” “fortitude” and “fortress.”
However, this is not the origin of “fortune,” “fortunate” and “fortuitous.” Those trace back to a different Latin “fortis,” a form of “fors,” meaning “chance, luck.”
I may not have had the Force on my side during my recent medical adventure, but I certainly had my share of good fortune. So the “fors” was with me.
The first of four definitions of “fortune” is “the entity or power believed by some to bring good or bad luck to people.” This is an echo of the Roman goddess Fortuna, “personifying luck or chance,” according to “The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories.”
The third definition of “fortune” is “good luck; success; prosperity.”
That sense is more specific in the fourth definition: “a large quantity of money or possessions; wealth; riches.” This is the kind that a “fortune hunter” pursues.
As for the second definition, that’s where “fortune tellers” come in: “what happens or is going to happen to one; one’s lot, good or bad, especially one’s future lot.”
In general, “fortune” is a good thing. When it goes bad, it’s “misfortune.”
As for “luck,” it certainly can be good or bad. Even the word’s origin is a bit uncertain. Webster’s says it’s probably from the Middle Dutch “luk,” a contraction of “gelucke,” from an Old Dutch word of uncertain spelling. The probable Indo-European base meant “to bend.” So the basic sense, says the dictionary, is “what bends together,” hence, “what occurs, what is fitting, lucky occurrence.”
Good luck trying to follow all of that.
You can be “in luck” or “luck out,” or be “out of luck” or “down on your luck.” You can “try your luck,” but it isn’t wise to “press your luck.”
The Oxford word histories book says the word “luck” “may have come into English as a gambling term.”
That seems like a good bet.
Associated Press style calls for the word after a colon to be capitalized if that word begins a complete sentence. For example, “I believe Roger Miller was right: You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.”
On the other hand, if what follows the colon isn’t a complete sentence, then the first word isn’t capped (unless it’s a proper noun, of course).
Some style guides do not make this distinction, preferring lowercase in either case.
As always, follow the house rules. But either way is correct. Just be consistent.
A word from Wood
For those who didn’t get the word, the Wood on Words column and blog were essentially dormant during May because I was on medical leave.
I had surgery May 17 to remove my left kidney, which had been besieged by a cancerous growth. There’s no indication of cancer cells anywhere else, so I haven’t needed follow-up radiation or chemotherapy. And my recovery has been virtually trouble-free.
My family and I are so grateful for the happy combination of incredibly skillful doctors and nurses, a large dose of good luck, and all the warm words of encouragement and good wishes from so many people.
My sincerest thanks to all for the emails and cards and the kind and concerned conversations.
Contact Barry Wood at email@example.com or read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/woodonwords/.