Origin of “May you live in interesting times”

interesting times

The coronavirus pandemic has caused me to think a lot lately about the saying “May you live in interesting times,” which is reported to be a Chinese curse. But just where does this adage really come from? We’ll investigate that today.

The Phrase Finder website says: “‘May you live in interesting times’ is widely reported as being of ancient Chinese origin but is neither Chinese nor ancient, being recent and western.”

According to the site, the phrase was originally said by the American politician, Frederic R. Coudert, in 1939. He referred to a letter Sir Austen Chamberlain wrote to him in which he stated:

. . . 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.'”

Despite this, it does not appear to actually come from China and is not clear to have existed before Sir Austen Chamberlain allegedly said it.

Note that then it appeared as “interesting age.” By the time Robert F. Kennedy included it in his “Day of Affirmation Address” in Capetown, South Africa, in 1966, it had morphed into “interesting times.”

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 the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.

Though the curse may not have been Chinese, what RFK said I hope applies today. It certainly feels dangerous and uncertain, but I hope wonderfully creative and positive things come out of this, as well.

 

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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The Difference Between Epidemic vs. Pandemic

epidemic vs pandemic

Epidemic and pandemic have similar meanings, but there is a slight difference between the two. And that difference has to do with size.

Epidemic
An epidemic is a disease that affects many people at the same time and spreads rapidly through a wide geographic area. The World Health Organization has added the clarification to their definition that an epidemic is considered to happen within a region or community.

Pandemic
A pandemic, then, is a disease outbreak that has spread beyond a region or community. A pandemic happens when many are sick at the same time at the level of country, continent, or the whole world.

So then a disease outbreak that sickens many people at the same time across the state of Texas would be considered an epidemic, but a disease outbreak that sickens many people at the same time across the entire United States would be considered a pandemic.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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How to Use a Coordinating Conjunction with a Comma in a Sentence

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So

Coordinating conjunctions often connect two complete thoughts in a sentence. You can remember these words by the acronym FANBOYS, which stands for For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So.

Let’s go over that by looking at this formula:

COMPLETE THOUGHT + FANBOYS + COMPLETE THOUGHT.

Here’s what that looks like in a sentence:

The cat ate the pizza, and she thought it tasted good.

“The cate at the pizza” is a complete thought, and “she thought it tasted good” is a complete thought (note that they could both stand on their own as separate sentences). The coordinating conjunction “and” joined the two complete thoughts.

Do you notice anything else about the sentence? A comma goes before the coordinating conjunction when it separates two complete thoughts. That’s the last part of our formula. Now it looks like this:

COMPLETE THOUGHT + COMMA + FANBOYS + COMPLETE THOUGHT.

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Let’s look at examples for each of the FANBOYS:

For: The cat ate the pizza, for she was hungry.

And: The cat went to the restaurant, and she ate the pizza.

Nor: The cat does not like pineapple pizza, nor does she like mushroom pizza.

But: The cat doesn’t like mushroom pizza, but she ate it because it was free.

Or: The cat could eat pizza, or she could eat tacos.

Yet: The cat went to the restaurant, yet she could have had a pizza delivered.

So: The cat was really hungry, so she ate four slices of pizza.

To sum up: FANBOYS are words (called “coordinating conjunctions”) that often join two complete thoughts into one sentence. A comma goes before FANBOYS in this situation.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

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How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo Success

Photo of typewriter and the words: NaNo Survival & Success

Hundreds of thousands of people are signing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year, just like they do every year. And like every year, most people won’t hit the 50,000-word finish line they’re supposed to reach from November 1 to November 30. Almost 90 percent won’t, if you tally up the scattershot figures.

The biggest reason why is because people don’t plan ahead. That’s the main thing that separates the “winners” from the “losers” (it’s called “winning” if you reach the word count). One group spends hours deliberately preplanning their novel, and the other plops down on November first with a pot of coffee and a couple vague ideas, thinking 50,000 words will magically pour out.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic, folks. But you can finish in time, with a solid first draft, if you spend the time now preparing.

There are three main areas to plan: plot, characters, and setting. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to think about for each section.

Plot
You can get as detailed as you want with your plot planning, but there are some areas you will want to figure out for certain:

  • Genre
  • Premise
  • Beginning
  • Ending
  • Key events in between

Some people will make a scene-by-scene outline that includes all kinds of details and even the position of the moon. They’re called “plotters.” The writers who recoil at the previous thought are called “pantsers,” as in “fly by the seat of their pants.” They sit down and write what comes to them as it comes to them. Under normal circumstances, I tell writers to do what feels best. Either way can be successful. But when you’ve been writing for twenty plus days in a row and your last three lines have come from you falling asleep on the letter Z, you’re going to be thankful you at least outlined your key events.

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Characters
For your story to feel believable and not one dimensional, you’ll want to have thoughtful, fully realized characters. This is why you’ll want to create a character profile for most of them. (The waitress with only three lines gets a pass.)

Your profile should include:

  • Physical characteristics: (eye color, hair color, build, etc.)
  • Life basics: (job, hobbies, etc.)
  • Strengths & weaknesses (physical, mental, and/or emotional)
  • Fun facts (favorite movie, favorite food, etc.)

You won’t need to include every detail about every character in your book, but knowing so much about your characters will help you better assess how they will react in any given situation.

As you create your characters, be sure to invent an antagonist (bad guy) for your protagonist (main character) and at least a few side characters. You’ll also want to think about their relationships with each other. Who is your character’s best friend? Who’s their love interest? Who do they have a positive relationship with? Who do they have a negative relationship with? Who do they tell their secrets to?

Setting
Setting is important to establishing the feeling and mood of a scene. A scene taking place in a shopping mall cafeteria would have a starkly different feeling than one happening in a darkened cave, for example.

Some questions you’ll want to ask yourself about your settings include:

  • Where does the story take place?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Does it take place in many settings or in one setting?
  • How do characters travel from one setting to the next?

You’ll also want to consider your characters’ relationship to settings. A king would have different feelings about his castle’s throne room than the person who is plotting the king’s death, for example. Characters’ relationship to the setting may influence their behavior in the scene.

Organize Your Thoughts
One way to organize all of these details is to use a workbook. I have created one called The One-Month Novel Workbook. It includes 64 pages of worksheets covering all of these topics and more, along with writing-success guides and self-care ideas.

The workbook comes as a digital download and in print. You can learn more about it, and the book-coaching program I have created for this contest, here: https://www.dotanddashllc.com/shop

Imply vs. Infer

imply vs infer

It’s easy to understand why people get imply and infer confused. Their meanings are related and similar. In this post, I will explain what these two words mean and show you how you can remember the difference between the two.

imply: to suggest or express something in an indirect way

For example, if you are talking to your friend, and you notice their breath reeks of garlic and onions, you may pull out a tin of mints and say “Want one?” as a way of expressing to them indirectly that their breath stinks. In this case, you are implying they have smelly breath.

infer: to conclude, especially from an indirect suggestion

For example, if you just ate garlic and onions for lunch, and your friend asks you if you want a mint, you could infer from their indirect suggestion that you have smelly breath.

Memory aid
When you infer, you are taking in information to analyze in order to come to a conclusion.

So taking in information = infer since they both use in.

You can just remember that imply means the opposite.

With imply, you are putting out suggestions.

With infer, you are taking in information.

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Quiz:
Choose either imply or infer for the spaces below.

  1. Trixie yawned and yawned in order to _____ to her guests that it was late and she wanted them to leave.
  2. Trixie looked at her failing quiz grades and _____ed she needed to study really hard for the final.
  3. Trixie stopped answering Brad’s texts, trying to _____ that she didn’t want to talk to him anymore.
  4. Brad gave Trixie flowers and asked what she was doing Friday night, _____ing he wanted to go on a date with her.
  5. When her aunt asked whether she ever wanted kids, Trixie burst out laughing. Her aunt _____ed her answer was no.

1) imply; 2) inferred; 3) imply 4) implying; 5) inferred

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
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