Serendipity And Syzygy: Fortunate Accidents

How syzygy saved the Suez ship, and how a country’s name ended up inside the word “serendipity.”

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How did a country’s name end up inside the word, “serendipity”? And what’s a “syzygy”? And, more importantly, why does it have so many y’s?   

Over the past year, several listeners have written to us asking about these two words. Now, we answer—with a little help. Eli Chen and Justine Paradis join us for a round of Diction Dash, where Johanna tries (and usually fails) to guess the correct origin or meaning of a word. 

If you want us to cover a word on the show, get in touch! Give us a call, leave a message, and we might play it on the show. The number is 929-499-WORD, or 929-499-9673. Or, you can always send an email to

Read a transcript of this episode here.


Justine Paradis is a reporter and producer for Outside/In from New Hampshire Public Radio. 

Eli Chen is senior editor of Overheard at National Geographic.

Footnotes & Further Reading: 

More on how a syzygy helped free the Suez ship at the Wall Street Journal

Read The Three Princes of Serendip


Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer along with Senior Producer and Editor Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt composed all our music. Fact checking by Robin Palmer. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.

Meet the Writers

About Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is a podcast producer and hosted Science Diction from Science Friday. When she’s not working, she’s probably baking a fruit pie. Cherry’s her specialty, but she whips up a mean rhubarb streusel as well.

About Elah Feder

Elah Feder is the former senior producer for podcasts at Science Friday. She produced the Science Diction podcast, and co-hosted and produced the Undiscovered podcast.

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