Felicity (meaning)

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Etymological note: the Latin noun felicitas is derived from the adjective felix, felic-, 'happy'. This, as is not uncommon in European languages, may be translated into English as 'lucky', 'fortunate' or 'blessed' as well as 'happy'. Its origin seems to have been 'fertile', and the word is cognate with fecundus 'fecund', 'fertile' and fetus 'foetus'. The southern part of the Arabian peninsula was known to the 2nd century CE Roman geographer Ptolemy as Arabia Felix for several reasons: because of its greater rainfall than the rest of the peninsula, it was more fertile; in its monopoly of the production of incense, it was blessed; and because of its central role in the spice trade and other east-west relations, it was fortunate.
    • In Present-day English, felicity is usually stronger than 'happiness': it can denote 'bliss ' or 'intense happiness'. It was often used in religious times to mean 'heaven', as in Hamlet's dying wish to his friend Horatio not to kill himself, but "Absent thee from felicity a while
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story." (Shakespeare Hamlet V ii 299). (Many classrooms have heard variations on the tired teacher's joke: "Not with a capital 'F-'; it's not his girlfriend he should leave alone.")
    • It is now rare to see the noun used with the sense of 'luck', 'a stroke of luck', 'good fortune', 'prosperity', which were common in the Early Modern period, where students of English literature may find them.
    • You may see it in a more eighteenth century development as meaning "A happy faculty in art or speech; admirable appropriateness or grace of invention or expression" (OED), or 'an elegantly concise or witty expression or style'.

The common noun is little used now, outside very formal contexts, but it was fairly usual in the eighteenth century. It has given several more or less formal derivatives:

    • the verb 'to felicitate', whose only current meaning is 'to congratulate', or
      • 'to offer felicitations [to someone]', felicitations being 'congratulations';
      • The adjective felicitous (together with its adverb felicitously) means 'lucky' or 'very appropriate', "strikingly apt" (OED).
  • The proper noun Felicity (with upper case 'F-') is a girl's forename. It is recorded in its Latin version Felicitas, in late Roman times, including two saints, one of whom was martyred in Carthage in 203CE, and the other was the legendary mother of thr Seven Martyrs' of Rome.