Speak of Cao Cao


“So there’s this proverb:

Chinese: 说曹操, 曹操到
Phonetic: Shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào
Transliteration: Say, Cao Cao, Cao Cao arrives
Translation: Speak of Cao Cao, and he will appear

it’s a phrase, like, everyone uses but I’m not sure where it comes from. Apparently, he saved someone from dying once they spoke his name. That’s it I think.”


Informant (JG) is a student aged 19 from Beijing, China. Although she was born in Los Angeles, she has spent most of her life living in China. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview over breakfast in the dining hall. She heard the proverb from numerous sources and uses it herself. She usually uses it to refer to someone she doesn’t want to meet/see, in the same vein as “speak of the devil.”


As mentioned by (JG), this proverb functions in the same way as the English saying “speak of the devil.” This is an example of polygenesis in folklore as the two cultures created similar folk speech without a connecting thread.