Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

My Huffpo blog on the killing of Osama bin Laden

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

On May 3, 2011, I wrote this blog on the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The early comments were probably 99 percent hostile to the point of view I expressed. By May 4, comments were much more balanced.

“Be careful what you wish for.” What is the origin of the phrase?

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

This is an old adage. How did it become popular?

Some focus on the anonymous quote, “be careful what you wish for,” from the Tale of the Monkey’s Paw, by W.W. Jacobs, published in 1902, but the use is clearly much older, and probably untraceable. The context and meaning varies.

While I don’t have the original cite yet, Goethe (1749 – 1832) has been paraphrased or quoted as saying:

“Beware of what you wish for in youth, because you will get it in middle life.”

In 1874, An author identified as Mrs Day, wrote: Goethe says, “Beware of what you wish for.” (Rough Hewn. Hurst and Blackett, London. 1874. Page 307.)

In 1922, James Joyce wrote, in Ulysses,

That may be too, Stephen said. There’s a saying of Goethe’s which Mr Magee likes to quote. Beware of what you wish for in youth, because you will get it in middle life.

In 1944, Fleming MacLiesh wrote in the Cone of silence’

Goethe said, ‘Beware of what you wish for in youth, lest you achive it in middle age.’ And you agree, and go on still despartely wanting all the things you want now in your yourth. Learn the hard way.

The earliest version I found in Google Books of the exact phrase “Be careful what you wish for” is from a 1891 edition of the Atlantic Monthly.

“Be careful what you wish for in this world, for if you wish hard enough you are sure to get it. I once heard a very wise many say this, and the longer I live the more firmly I believe it to be true.”

A Native of Winby, Sarah Orne Jewett, The Atlantic monthly, Volume 67. 1891.

Jewett used the quote again in 1883.

“be careful what you wish for, because if you wish hard enough you are pretty sure to get it.”

Betty Leicester’s English Christmas, by Sarah Orne Jewett, in St. Nicholas: a monthly magazine for boys and girls, Volume 23, Part 1. 1883

In 1900, Gale and Buss Newcomb used the quote “Be careful what you wish for,” in the story Someone to Crawl Back to.

In 1937, there was:

“Be careful what you wish for because you are liable to get it,” she thought with a delicious anticipatory shudder.
From these beginnings, 1937, by Jane Annixter. page 173.

C. Joseph Touhill, Gregory Touhill and Thomas O’Riordan, like many others, attribute the quote to a Chinese proverb.

“Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.” The origin of this famous quote is fuzzy and frequently attributed to an old Chinese proverb, but most people agree that it sums up an important lesson in life.
Commericalization of innovative technologies: bringing good ideas to the marketplace, 2008.

I have not yet seen any actual Chinese proverb that use this quote.

A search of Google Books before 1950 does not find a single instance of the quote being attributed to a Chinese proverb. The more common reference is to Goethe, to unidentified wise men, or the common advice of mothers or grandmothers to young children.

In a 1958 textbook for elementary school reading, Paul Paul Andrew Witty asked:

Why did the author quote the Chinese proverb: “Be careful what you wish for; you are apt to get it”?
Reading roundup, Volume 1‎ – Page 45

Google books does not attribute the quote to a Chinese proverb again until 1975, in Deathbird stories: a Pantheon of modern gods By Harlan Ellison. The quote would be attributed to a Chinese proverb 14 times in the 1980s, 67 times in the 1990s, and 306 times in the past decade, according to a June 13, 2010 text search on Google Books.

There are similar phrases found in French folk tales, and undoubtedly in other languages and cultures.

For 1981 to the present, The New York Times archives has 161 hits for the phrase, “be careful what you wish.”

A search for the phrase in Google scholar gives more than 3,400 hits.
Google blogs gives 950k hits.
Google’s web search gives more than 6 million hits.

The phrase is also used in a number of popular songs, including this one by Jonatha Brooke.

Or this one, by Eminem.

Raine Maida

Phoebe Peek

The Jadded