chapter of accidents in AmE

Discussion in 'English Only' started by susanna76, Mar 30, 2013.

  1. susanna76 Senior Member


    Does chapter of accidents sound strange to an American ear? It's another one of the phrases listed in the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. (2006). I looked it up in the COCA corpus and found only two instances of it.

    Thank you!
  2. exgerman Senior Member

    English but my first language was German
    This American has never knowingly heard it, but Merriam-Webster, an American dictionary has, and doesn't mark it as non-US. It gives a sample expression using the term: make no plans but leave things to the chapter of accidents
  3. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    We do ask for context with every question, so we can tell whether a phrase sounds strange or suitable.
  4. Parla Member Emeritus

    New York City
    English - US
    The context seems to be (as mentioned in another thread) that Susanna is simply perusing a book of idioms. It sounds quite strange to this American ear, and here's what I found in the "Idioms" section of (just by Googling "chapter of accidents"):

    be a chapter of accidents (British & Australian formal) to be a series of unpleasant events. The whole trip was a chapter of accidents.
  5. Jim2996 Senior Member

    Boston, MA
    American English
    I'll give you some context, but first: I think this is less an idiom and more metaphorical language. The idea is that the stories of our lives are contained in one big cosmic library. Each one of us has a book with his story in it, past, present, and future. There are many chapters. One of those chapters is the chapter of accidents. I hope there is also a chapter of good fortune. Please, a chapter of love. Lord Chesterfield pointed out: "The chapter of knowledge is very short, but the chapter of accidents is a very long one."

    I haven't heard this before, but it seems a straightforward literary or poetic metaphor.

    Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, used it in a literal sense. He kept a journal of the expedition and there is a chapter of accidents. (Lewis and Clark were two American explorers who set out to find a route from the Mississippi river to the Pacific ocean. This was when no one knew if it was even possible. The Rocky mountains are quite an obstacle.)
    I found this here
    It references Lord Chesterfield. I think he started this phrase, but I don't have time to look into it further.
  6. susanna76 Senior Member

    Thank you so much everyone!
    exgerman: That example you give is interesting because the BrE meaning, as given in the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, is the one Parla gives (I should have listed it myself): a series of unpleasant events. So the "make no plans but leave things to the chapter of accidents" doesn't sound quite right. The "chapter of accidents" in Clark's journal, mentioned by Jim, sounds like accidents as in "unpleasant events" because that's what accidents are in an expedition. But "make no plans but . . ." sounds like "make no plans but leave things to chance." I'm surprised Merriam-Webster chose this example.
  7. irinet

    irinet Senior Member

    Now that you have mentioned all these, susana, I can write down what I initially considered to be non-sensical.
    I have seen a quotation where reverend Brewer E. Bartleby in his "Dictionary of Proverbs and Fables" mentions the fact that 'chapters of accidents' as 'unforeseen things' turn up to end ok if you have trust in fate. As I see it, this has more religious implications. So, you may have a point when you saying that sometimes plans do not 'function' as supposed to but random events (= accidents, note that they are not terrible) might lead us to the right path.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2013
  8. susanna76 Senior Member

    Right, so the question is, are the "accidents" in "chapter of accidents" to be understood as "unforeseen events," or are they to be understood in the restricted meaning of "unpleasant events"?
  9. irinet

    irinet Senior Member

    You may see it as having the two possible variants. As you said Merriam-Webster goes for 'undesirable or unfortunate happening' as no.1 entry, and provides us with 'chance, fortune, luck; unexpected event' in no.2-3 entries. On the other hand, the synonyms given there are: 'mischance, misfortune'. I come to conclude that it is very much pertaining to the context. I even see 'chapters of accidents' as a 'series of un/fortunate accidents'.

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