Did someone just tell you, "may you live in interesting times?" What do they mean? This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this idiomatic expression.
If someone tells you, "may you live in interesting times," it's easy to confuse it with a blessing. However, it's actually the opposite, and they are hoping to curse you.
Essentially, they wish that you encounter nothing but strife and hardship in your life in the future. You can think of it as a nice way of telling someone to "get lost."
The phrase is more common in social settings, and you'll probably be telling it to someone you don't like. If someone says it to you, they probably don't agree with what you're saying.
"Oh really? Well, may you live in interesting times; I'm out of here."
"How can you say that to me? If you're trying to get a rise out of me, that's not going to work; I'm leaving. May you live in interesting times."
"Ron told me that he doesn't want to see me again. I said fine, may you live in interesting times, and we left it at that."
"As Jack walked away from the old man after insulting him, the agent took it well and said may you live in interesting times to him. Jack didn't even get that he was counter-insulting him."
Many people believe the origin of "may you live in interesting times" traces back to ancient China, where the phrase appears as a curse. The ironic expression disguises a curse as a blessing. However, the reality is that the term has its origins in western culture.
The phrase first appears in the 20th century in the format "interesting age" instead of "interesting times." The first recorded use of the term features in the opening remarks of a speech made by Frederic R. Coudert at the Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science in 1939, where it appears as the following text.
"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."
The phrase changed the "age" for "times" in the 1960s, as the language evolved and we started to move away from the use of archaic language.
Phrases Similar to May You Live in Interesting Times
- I wish you nothing but the worst in life.
- Go to hell.
- Go stuff yourself.
Phrases Opposite to May You Live in Interesting Times
- I hope you have a happy life.
- May God bless you and keep you safe.
What is the Correct Saying?
- May you live in interesting times.
Ways People May Say May You Live in Interesting Times Incorrectly
Some people may use the phrase "may you live in interesting times" to compliment, wishing them well. However, this phrase is an ancient curse with the opposite meaning of wishing someone well. You would only use this phrase when hoping ill will on someone, not praising them or wishing them prosperity for their lives.
Acceptable Ways to Phrase May You Live in Interesting Times
You can use "may you live in interesting times" when you're trying to insult someone or curse them without using foul language. It's a veiled threat, and it's a great way to tell someone that you hope they have misfortune in their life without being crude.