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May you live in interesting times is a phrase that is often quoted as being the English translation of an ancient Chinese proverb and curse. However, many people have searched for the original Chinese language version and have not been able to determine its origin. It has been attributed to various American speakers, though research is continuing into the phrase's first appearance. It dates back to at least 1950, when the April issue of Astounding Science Fiction included the saying in one of the magazine's stories. The story was penned by Eric Frank Russell under the name Duncan H. Munro. It is currently unknown if Russell created the phrase himself or heard it from somewhere else. The saying has also been attributed to the fictional Chinese storyteller Kai Lung invented by the Edwardian, English author Ernest Bramah, though this too has yet to be documented. It is reported that it was the first of three curses of increasing severity, the other two being:
May you come to the attention of those in authority
May you find what you are looking for
Other sources contend that it may be related to the Chinese proverb, It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period.
It is often argued that the word interesting is meant to be a synonym for turbulent or dangerous, while others suggest that no such similarity is necessary for the statement to be imposing. However, both these analyses miss the essential irony of the saying.
The saying inspired the title of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Interesting Times. The saying may also be found in Dean Koontz's novel Tick Tock, and was part of a speech delivered by Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland) near the end of the 1994 film Disclosure.
The saying was probably most famously evoked in (and therefore popularized by) Robert F. Kennedy's Day of Affirmation Address in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1966.
* Stephen E. DeLong (May 5, 1998). Get a(n interesting) life! Accessed February 13, 2004.
* Origin of Phrase: May You Live In Interesting Times
* Robert F. Kennedy's Day of Affirmation Address, Cape Town, South Africa Accessed June 1, 2006.
(Personal note: My father has long been fond of quoting this "old Chinese saying". I first heard it from him. He loves the irony of this "curse" in the word "interesting".)
[ Last edited by putneyswope at 2007-2-15 12:16 PM ]