c. 1300, "something that takes place, what happens, an occurrence" (good or bad, but more often bad), especially one that is unexpected, unforeseen, or beyond human control, also "one's luck, lot, or fortune," good or bad; in a positive sense "opportunity, favorable contingency;" also "contingent or unexpected event, something that may or may not come about or be realized." It is from Old French cheance "accident, chance, fortune, luck, situation, the falling of dice" (12c., Modern French chance), from Vulgar Latin *cadentia "that which falls out," a term used in dice, from neuter plural of Latin cadens, present participle of cadere "to fall" (from PIE root *kad- "to fall").
In English frequently in plural, chances. The word's notions of "opportunity" and "randomness" are as old as the record of it in English and now all but crowd out its original notion of "mere occurrence." The meaning "fortuity, absence of any cause why an event should happen or turn out as it does, variability viewed as a real agent" is from c. 1400.
Chance is equivalent to the mathematical concept of probability, which is a precisely measurable factor enabling the accurate prediction of average outcomes over long runs of random events — the longer the run, the more accurate the predictions. Luck is at best a platitude and at worst a superstition. [David Partlett, "A History of Card Games"]
Main chance "probability that offers greatest advantage," hence "thing of most importance" is from 1570s. The mathematical sense of "probability, likelihood of a certain outcome" is from 1778, hence the odds-making sense of "balanced probability of gain or loss."
To stand a chance (or not) is from 1796. To take (one's) chances "accept what happens" (early 14c.) is from the old, neutral sense; to take a chance/take chances is originally (by 1814) "participate in a raffle or lottery or game;" the extended sense of "take a risk" is by 1826.
late 14c., "to come about, to happen," from chance (n.). The meaning "to risk, take the chances of" is attested from 1859. Related: Chanced; chancing.
updated on November 25, 2022
Dictionary entries near chance