Proverbs commonly said to be Chinese
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In English, various phrases are used and claimed to be of Chinese origin – "..., as they say in China" or "An ancient Chinese proverb says...", and may be specifically attributed to Confucius. Chinese has influenced English in various ways, and some such phrases have clear Chinese origins, while in other cases the attribution to Chinese is demonstrably false, and in other cases the status is less clear.
Notable examples include:
- A picture is worth a thousand words – in the modern English form attributed to Fred R. Barnard in the 1920s. The 1949 Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Familiar Phrases quotes Barnard as saying he called it "a Chinese proverb, so that people would take it seriously." An actual Chinese expression, "Hearing something a hundred times isn't better than seeing it once" (百闻不如一见, p bǎi wén bù rú yī jiàn) is sometimes claimed to be the equivalent.
- Chinese word for "crisis" – the claim that the Chinese word for "crisis", simplified Chinese: 危机; traditional Chinese: 危機; pinyin: wēijī; Wade–Giles: wei-chi is "danger" + "opportunity" is a folk etymology, based on a misreading of the second character jī.
- May you live in interesting times – it is very doubtful that this has a Chinese origin, as no known Chinese phrase has been found supporting this.
Other examples include phrases contained in fortune cookies, or sayings in the same style; fortune cookies are of Japanese American origin, and the phrases are generally intended for entertainment, rather than drawing on traditional Chinese culture.
Authentic Chinese origin
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Many Chinese proverbs exist, some of which have entered English, in forms that are of varying degrees of faithfulness. A notable example is "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step", from the Dao De Jing, ascribed to Laozi.