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accident-prone

If my memory serves me well, which is never a good thing to bet on, I think I’ve made this complaint about one or two other compound words discussed in this project, but I’ll make it again here. Why is accident-prone even here?

Accident and prone are fairly simple words. They are both easy to find in the dictionary. And their definitions in the dictionary are easy to understand.

Accident-prone simply means prone, i.e., more likely to have something happen to you, to having accidents, i.e., chance events. With the definitions of accident and prone in your head, there should be no problem figuring out what accident-prone means, so why is it in the dictionary? There are plenty of other compound words that don’t make the cut, so why is accident-prone favored by the dictionary I’m using? I don’t know why, but it is.

The only deviation that accident-prone makes from what you would imagine based on the definitions of the words accident and prone is that the accidents in question normally have negative consequences, even though that is not necessary in the strictest sense of the word accident.

If there weren’t negative consequences, the term accident-prone would never come up because few people take more than a passing interest in the happy accidents that other people have. Schadenfreude lives! Nevertheless, that’s only a very minor deviation from what one would expect from the words accident and prone because, despite it not being there in the dictionary, most people consider “having negative consequences” to be a mandatory element in the definition of accident.

This raises the question, can anyone truly be accident-prone? If accidents happen by chance (that’s the definition) then, in the absence of a deity who likes to pick on people because of some slight they caused the deity, can some people be more likely to have accidents than other people? The answer is yes.

Someone who is less coordinated, less cautious and less stable on his or her feet than the average person—i.e., someone who reputable, precise, modern scientists would clinically refer to as a klutz—has a higher probability of having accidents than other people.

The accident would, by definition, still happen by chance. However, the probability of it happening is higher. Thus, over time, that person would likely have more accidents than other people.

If this is you, please let me know when you are operating motorized vehicles so I can stay off the streets while you’re out. Also, I look forward to seeing you at the next meeting of the klutz club, but please arrive either well ahead or well behind me so we don’t have to be driving at the same time. Accidents happen. Particularly to us.

Similarly, people who regularly put themselves in situations of greater danger than other people will likely have more accidents than people who play it safe because accidents are more likely in those situations than in circumstances of greater safety. Being a neurotic who nurtures and caters to his neuroses, I probably won’t be seeing much of these people.

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