Once Upon a Time

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Once upon a time‘ is a stock phrase used to introduce a narrative of past events, typically in fairy tales and folktales. It has been used in some form since at least 1380 in storytelling in the English language and has opened many oral narratives since 1600. These stories often then end with ‘and they all lived happily ever after,’ or, originally, ‘happily until their deaths.’

The phrase is particularly common in fairy tales for younger children, where it is almost always the opening line of a tale. It was commonly used in the original translations of the stories of Charles Perrault as a translation for the French ‘il √©tait une fois,’ of Hans Christian Andersen as a translation for the Danish ‘der var engang,’ (literally ‘there was once’), the Brothers Grimm as a translation for the German ‘es war einmal’ (literally ‘it was once’). An alternative German fairy tale opening translates to: ‘Back in the days when it was still of help to wish for a thing…’

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