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There is a well known phrase "скатертью дорога" which is sort of caustic version of "good riddance". There's also a common knowledge that this phrase initially meant something exactly the opposite from what it means now, namely, it was sort of Russian "Bon voyage". And then this original meaning gradually faded away and finally what was actually the ironical rethinking became the main usage.

The thing is I'm failing to find any sources on this being true - there's no evidence of "скатертью дорога" ever used as some positive wish.

My question would be - when exactly this phrase came to usage and what exactly it meant back then?

UPD:

Here's the earliest reference I was able to find. This is from a play written by Ivan Mikhailovich Dolgorukov, who lived at the end of XVIIIth - beginning of XIXth century:

Дурылом: Любовь чума в семье, в которой девок много

Лестигон: Любви счастливый путь, и скатертью дорога!

It's actually already quite ironical.

In phraseological dictionary "Ходячiя и мѣткiя слова"(Mikhelson, in modern orthography "Ходячие и меткие слова") one can find:

enter image description here enter image description here

The positive wish meaning is not mentioned at all. In comments there are some examples of positive usage dating back to XIXth century. While those are nice finds, that by itself proves nothing. For instance, this could be a later development.

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    "Скатертью, скатертью, дальний путь стелется..." - эти слова явно были написаны с учетом обсуждаемой поговорки, и это уже середина 70х. Jul 13 '17 at 9:59
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Here are the positive examples taken from "Фразеологический словарь русского языка":

Феклуша. Милая девушка, все-то ты за работой! Что делаешь, милая?
Глаша. Хозяина в дорогу собираю.
Феклуша. Аль едет куда свет наш?
Глаша. Едет.
Феклуша. Надолго, милая, едет?
Глаша. Нет, ненадолго.
Феклуша. Ну, скатертью ему дорога!

Островский, Гроза (1859)

Счастливо оставаться, ваше степенство!.. Путь вам чистый, дорога скатертью!..

Мельников-Печерский, В лесах (1874)

Ведь твое дело молодое, не то что наше, стариковское: на все четыре стороны скатертью дорога.

Мамин-Сибиряк, Приваловские миллионы (1883)

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From "Словарь русской фразеологии. Историко-этимологический справочник" by А.К.Бирих, В.М.Мокиенко, Л.И.Степанова (it doesn't say "when" but explains the original meaning):

enter image description here

I personally have seen it used in its original (positive) sense a couple of times in folk tales. There's also a similar (but really rare) expression "зеркалом дорога".

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    yes, but how the authors of the dictionary came up with this knowledge? this is exactly what bothers me - I can not find what is the earlier evidence, only references in later dictionaries.
    – shabunc
    Jul 7 '17 at 5:21
  • @Headcrab, could you please expand the references in your quote (Фелицина etc.) so one could make a really deep research?
    – AlexVB
    Jul 7 '17 at 5:54
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    @shabunc Ну вот, например: "Даже и чуме в Россию -- скатертью дорога! Милости просим!" (Е.А. Салиас "На Москве", 1880, az.lib.ru/s/salias_e_a/text_0080.shtml)
    – Matt
    Jul 7 '17 at 6:36
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    @shabunc "Лучше бы всего уехать именно зимой, когда во все концы скатертью дорога" (Мамин-Сибиряк "Три конца").
    – Matt
    Jul 7 '17 at 6:39
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    В словаре Даля (1860-е) "Все столом да скатертью, дорожка скатертью!" упоминается как "пожелание путнику". Но прямого указания на положительный смысл нет.
    – Abakan
    Jul 7 '17 at 9:13
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At present Скатертью дорога has only negative connotation. In positive context this phrase mostly sounds outdated and can rarely be used.

By saying Скатертью дорога about a person the speaker demonstrats he's relieved that the person's gone and he was annoyed with the person's presence before and he means no harm, but have no desire to meet that person again.

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  • Re-read the question carefully.
    – Abakan
    Jul 13 '17 at 14:19

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