What Does May You Live in Interesting Times Mean?

May You Live in Interesting Times Meaning

Definition: May you live in a dangerous and tumultuous age.

While this may sound like a blessing or a warm wish, it is always used ironically to indicate a period of chaos or disorder.

Origin of May You Live in Interesting Times

This idiom dates back to the first half of the 1900s. Many claim it is of Chinese origin, and that it is an ancient curse, but there is no known equivalent expression in Chinese.

No sources have been able to confirm a Chinese origin, yet the expression is still colloquially referred to as the “Chinese Curse.”

A famous use of this phrase was by Robert Kennedy in a speech in the year 1966.

  • There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.

He meant that the 1960s were interesting because of all the fear that people had over what the future would hold.

Examples of May You Live in Interesting Times

chinese curse interesting times

In this conversation, two high school students are talking after class.

Lisa: Hey! What’s up? You have a strange expression on your face.

Annie: I was asking the teacher a few questions after class finished, and he said something weird.

Lisa: Really? What did he say?

Annie: He said, “May you live in interesting times.” I’m confused because that sounds as if it should be something good, but he said it kind of ominously.

Lisa: Oh, yeah. I’ve heard that expression before. It actually is meant to be bad. It’s like a curse, because interesting is supposed to mean dangerous or scary.

Annie: Oh, I see. I wonder what I did to make him so angry at me.

chinese curse interesting times meaningIn the dialogue below, two friends are talking about history and the present day.

Seth: Hey, Jimmy, did you ever hear that speech Bobby Kennedy gave? It was the one where he said may you live in interesting times.

Jimmy: Yeah. I guess there were a lot of big changes going on during that time in history.

Seth: Do you think we’re living in interesting times right now?

Jimmy: Absolutely!

More Examples

This excerpt is about a company experiencing hard times. In the quote, the manager explains that he hopes the company will stabilize.

  • “You may be familiar with the apocryphal Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Sequoia shareholders have lived through interesting times during the past year,” the fund’s manager, Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb, wrote in the investor note. “We can assure you that our goal is to be much less interesting in the months and years ahead.” –USA Today

This excerpt is about the public’s opinion of a former president.

  • “May you live in interesting times.” This curse, attributed tenuously to the Chinese, bespeaks a preference for order over change. We now live in interesting times and Americans are hungering for change. Yet, surprisingly, President Obama enjoys increasing popularity as he heads into the final days of his presidency. –Chicago Sun Times

Summary

May you live in interesting times is an expression where the speaker ironically wishes an “interesting” time to whomever he is speaking. In reality, he or she wishes the person to live during times of uncertainty and disorder as opposed to peace and tranquility.