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Jul 2 2014   12:20PM GMT

Vocabulary: Does hapless mean unhappy, unlucky or ineffectual?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

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CIO

What does this sentence mean?

interrobang When the hapless contestant is fired at the end of Apprentice, it is usually because he has failed as a project manager.  Does hapless mean:

a. Unhappy

b. Unlucky

c. Ineffectual

Answer: b. 

Explanation:

Hapless means unlucky, unfortunate, pitiable. The word  hap comes from late middle English, which comes from Old Norse, the language of Viking invaders. Middle English hap and old Norse happ both mean good fortune, so haplessness is the lack of same.

For example: In 793, Vikings began raids on the hapless Saxons.

Here’s an interesting thread  on the etymology of hapless.

Here’s more on the Viking invasions.

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