A συμφορά generally means a "misfortune"; συμφέρω, however, is unambiguously positive: "to be beneficial."

It's a little strange that τὰ συμφέροντα and συμφορά are (essentially) antonyms. How exactly did συμφορά come to have its (predominantly) negative meaning? It's especially strange since the above LSJ entry notes a "rare" meaning of συμφορά that is more like what one would expect: "good luck, happy issue."

1 Answer 1


The positive and negative aspects of the root is just development of the original idea of "chance event," itself a development from what must have meant something like "to befall." That's already three metaphorical developments beyond a basic meaning of the components. But there's nothing particular about the parts of speech to indicate that it should be one and not the other.

I don't think it's so strange, though. Chance encounters can be either good or bad, and I don't believe there is any particular reason why one went one way and another the other. And other similar words exhibit the same characteristic. Fortuna in Latin and τύχη in Greek can mean either positive or negative luck depending on the context. However, fortunatus in Latin chiefly (only?) has positive connotations (thus the synonyms felix and beatus in Lewis and Short).

Even in English, "luck" works similarly. By itself, it's technically neutral, and one can have good luck or bad luck. Yet "lucky" is only positive (thus the need for lucky). Conversely, "what luck!" can be either negative or positive, again depending on the circumstances.

  • I deleted my other comment, since I didn't read your parallels carefully enough...the analogy with fortuna/fortunatus is helpful. I guess usage just tips the balance of a neutral word in one direction!
    – brianpck
    Oct 2, 2022 at 21:22
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    @brianpck Yeah, I could be wrong, but I do believe it's only usage. I guess the unusual thing is why συμφορά became so negative when most of these words become positive instead. I can't think of a direct parallel with it off the top of my head.
    – cmw
    Oct 2, 2022 at 21:31
  • also the English words with positive meaning: fortune and fortunately Oct 3, 2022 at 11:59
  • @ypercubeᵀᴹ Although in the case of the English fortune, I don't think it's ever used in a negative sense. It's always misfortune and unfortunately. Meanwhile, luck can be good or bad, even if it often is good.
    – cmw
    Oct 5, 2022 at 13:28
  • I agree but fortune is used in a neutral way as well. I mainly meant that you can expand on the comparison with the original fortuna in Latin: "However, fortunatus in Latin chiefly (only?) has positive connotations and similarly the derived English words fortune and fortunately" Oct 5, 2022 at 16:21

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