Life’s a Lottery

The word lottery comes from Middle Dutch loterie, from lot “fate” or “allotment,” and verbal forms such as toloter (to allot) and lotheren (to draw lots). The first state-sponsored lotteries were recorded in the Low Countries in the 15th century, with money raised for building town fortifications and helping poor citizens.

A modern form of the lottery is a game in which players pay for the chance to win a prize, such as money or goods, by selecting numbers from a range. If enough of their numbers match those randomly drawn by a machine, the player wins the jackpot. This form of the game is illegal in most states, and federal law prohibits mailing promotional materials for a lottery to residents of any state or foreign country.

Other types of lotteries are used for much more mundane purposes, such as determining who will get to move into a subsidized housing unit or whose children will be placed in kindergarten at a certain school. In fact, some of the world’s best universities owe their existence to money won through the lottery.

In this context, we often think of the phrase life’s a lottery: something that can be very exciting or painful, depending on your luck. It can be anything from finding true love to getting hit by lightning.