May you live in interesting times
Evidence that the phrase was in use as early as 1936 is provided by a memoir written by Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen who was the British Ambassador to China in 1936 and 1937. The memoir describes an instance of a friend of Knatchbull-Hugessen describing the phrase as a "Chinese curse" when discussing his departure to China.
Frederic René Coudert, Jr. also recounts having heard the phrase at the time:
- Some years ago, in 1936, I had to write to a very dear and honored friend of mine, who has since died, Sir Austen Chamberlain, brother of the present Prime Minister, and I concluded my letter with a rather banal remark, "that we were living in an interesting age." Evidently he read the whole letter, because by return mail he wrote to me and concluded as follows: "Many years ago, I learned from one of our diplomats in China that one of the principal Chinese curses heaped upon an enemy is, 'May you live in an interesting age.'" "Surely", he said, "no age has been more fraught with insecurity than our own present time." That was three years ago.
The phrase is again described as a "Chinese curse" in 1943's "Child Study Association of America, Federation for Child Study (U.S.)".
A traditional Chinese idiom which seems to be similar but is "not quite right" is translated from ("寧為太平犬，不做亂世人") as: "It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period."
It is speculated that the phrase is the first of three curses of increasing severity, all of which are seemingly positive statements. The other two statements are, among several alternatives with similar meanings (listed)::
- "May you come to the attention of those in authority."
- "May you come to the attention of powerful people."
- "May you come to the attention of important people."
- "May you find what you are looking for."
- "May your wishes be granted."
Popularization and usage
- The saying was used by Robert F. Kennedy in his Day of Affirmation Address in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1966.
- It is also a saying from the counterweight continent in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and a novel in the series centered in the "Aurient" (Orient) is named Interesting Times.
- "Interesting Times" is the title of the autobiography of the historian Eric Hobsbawm.
- Writer George Packer calls his New Yorker blog "Interesting Times".
- Harry Kim uses the phrase in Episode 6 "The Cloud" of Star Trek: Voyager Season 1.
- Neal Caffrey and Mozzie discuss the curse in Episode 14 "Out of the Box" of White Collar Season 1.
- Bryan W. Van Norden. Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2011; ISBN 9781603844697), p. 53, sourcing Fred R. Shapiro, ed., The Yale Book of Quotations (New Haven: Yale University Press 2006), p. 669.
- Knatchbull-Hugessen, Hughe (1949). Diplomat in Peace and War. J. Murray.
- Frederic R. Coudert Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, 1939
- Retrieved from Child Study: A Journal of Parent Education, Volume 21, p52.
- O'Conner, Patricia T.; Kellerman, Stewart (2012-07-05). May you live in interesting times. The Grammarphobia Blog, 5 July 2012. Retrieved 2013-07-15 .
- "Robert F. Kennedy's Day of Affirmation Address, Cape Town, South Africa". Retrieved 2008-08-03.
- George Packer. "Interesting Times". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-08-03.
- Stephen E. DeLong (May 5, 1998). "Get a(n interesting) life!". Archived from the original on 2004-04-04. Retrieved 2008-08-03.
- "Origin of Phrase: May You Live In Interesting Times". Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2008-08-03.