[Ads-l] Quote: May you live in interesting times (Chinese curse?)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 19 20:51:40 UTC 2015

Bonnie found a great new citation in 1936 for the expression "May you
live in interesting times".  The QI website now has an entry on this
topic. New citations and feedback would be welcome.


Here is some background about the citation: The most fascinating
periods in history were filled with tumult and upheaval. Tales of
treachery, wars, and chaos provide compelling reading, but many of the
participants who were living through the momentous changes were
experiencing fear, hunger, and pain. Here are three versions of a
saying that has commonly been described as a Chinese curse:

  May you live in interesting times.
  May you live in an interesting age.
  May you live in exciting times.

Fred and Ralph Keyes examined the supposed curse and found no
substantive evidence that it was a genuine Chinese curse.

Bonnie found the earliest citation containing the phrase and labeling
it a curse. The phrase was used in a speech by Austen Chamberlain that
was described in "The Yorkshire Post" of West Yorkshire, England in
March 1936.

[ref] 1936 March 21, The Yorkshire Post, Lesson of the Crisis: Sir A.
Chamberlain's Review of Events, Quote Page 11, Column 7, Leeds, West
Yorkshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Sir Austen Chamberlain, addressing the annual meeting of Birmingham
Unionist Association last night, spoke of the "grave injury" to
collective security by Germany's violation of the Treaty of Locarno.

Sir Austen, who referred to himself as "a very old Parliamentarian," said:--

"It is not so long ago that a member of the Diplomatic Body in London,
who had spent some years of his service in China, told me that there
was a Chinese curse which took the form of saying, 'May you live in
interesting times.' There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on

"We move from one crisis to another. We suffer one disturbance and
shock after another."
[End excerpt]


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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