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This question will be rather odd.

I have been thinking about this topic for a while, and this is the type of question that really cannot be answered without hearing people from different backgrounds.


By a culture’s/nation’s X “canonical question/phrase,” I mean a question/phrase from literature that is absolutely iconic for X, for example, by being extremely well-known among representatives of X and/or by reflecting a thought/vibe/problem of immense modern or historical value for X. I have not really thought about the formal definition, and honestly, I am not entirely sure whether the phenomenon I am trying to describe even exists. Hopefully, if I give a couple of examples, this concept will become clearer.

  • For instance, in Russian culture, the canonical question for sure could be “Whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right...” (in Russian: “Тварь я дрожащая, или право имею?”) from Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”
  • I assume that in English culture, the canonical question/phrase would be the Shakespearean “To be, or not to be, that is the question” from “Hamlet.”

Do you know other examples of canonical phrases of different (or the same) cultures?

Thanks.

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