Urinals and water closets, part 2

Some time ago I wrote about urinals and water closets. According to one questionable story, the president of the English Rugby Football Union, while visiting Romania during the Cold War, began a speech with two words he’d seen on toilet doors, thinking they meant ‘ladies and gentlemen’, only to be told afterwards that they meant ‘urinals and water closets’. Discussing some of the questions arising from the story, I referred to “urinals and seats (for the want of a better word)”. Since then I’ve occasionally pondered what I would call the seat to distinguish it from a urinal. As I man, how would I say “There was a urinal available, but I had to wait for a _”?

I watch a number of video channels by individuals or couples travelling by cars, buses, trains and/or aeroplanes. I try very hard to hate them for the amount of (usually luxury) travel they do, the enjoyment they get from it and the number of viewers, subscribers and comments they have, but find myself unable to because of the sheer enthusiasm they show. One feature of most videos is a “bathroom tour”. 

In one, an American couple was travelling through Europe by trains. The woman of the couple gave the bathroom tour and showed the shower and basin, then the 

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Rock law pt 2

In February 2020 I posted that my wife and I were planning a trip to Europe. The Korean group package tour we were considering taking went to, among other places, 브로츠와프 (beu-ro-cheu-wa-peu). I figured that it was Wroclaw, pronounced /ˈvrɔtswaf/. Yesterday’s paper included a story on Europe’s best undiscovered city (you probably can’t pronounce the name of) . The whole article requires a subscription, but you should be able to read the first two paragraphs, including the writer’s own pronunciation of Rock-law and his non-IPA rendering of Vrot-swav (more-or-less the same as my IPA rendering). (The history of Polish pronunciation and spelling is beyond my capabilities.) (See also.)

Very soon after than, our plans got knocked on the head by coronavirus travel restrictions, and it wasn’t until late December last year that we were able to travel – to Korea rather than Europe. Her latest suggestion for our next trip is a Mediterranean cruise, but from what I’ve seen they are very expensive. Our trade-off is time v money v experience(s).

The semen is mighty

One of the choirs I sing in is rehearsing Monteverdi’s Beatus vir qui timet domini (Blessed is the man who fears the Lord) (Psalm 112). Among other things (verse 2):

Potens in terra erit semen eius 

His – um – semen will be mighty in the earth

Except that Latin semen has more senses than in English, including seed (of plants), child, descendant, cause and essence (compare the seed of an idea or the seeds of doubt). Of the 55 translations on Bible Gateway:

descendents 26 descendants [seed] 1
seed 12
children 9
offspring 5
[spiritual] offspring 1
zera 1

Zera is the Hebrew equivalent, and is used by the Orthodox Jewish Bible, “an English language version that applies Yiddish and Hasidic cultural expressions to the Messianic Bible”. That verse reads, in full, “His zera shall be gibbor ba’aretz; ; the dor (generation) of the Yesharim (upright ones) shall be blessed”. If you know that many Hebrew/Yiddish/Hasidic words (I don’t), you may as well read it in Hebrew anyway (I don’t). Various Hebrew dictionaries give a similar range of definitions as the Latin.

In English, the meanings of semen, seed and descendants/children/offspring have diverged. You can’t show a photo of your children and grand-children and say “These are my semen” or “These are my seed”. You probably can’t even say “These are my descendants/children/offspring”.

(I am reminded of the book/tv series Game of Thrones. In a quasi-mediaeval fantasy world, the king’s chancellor is investigating an important secret. His last message before he is killed is “The seed is strong”.)

The other places we find semen in English are seminars and seminaries, were seeds are (meant to be) sown, or at least scattered.

Not surprisingly, semen is found in a number of European, mostly Latinate, languages with either or both the seed or reproductive meanings, and as a noun and/or verb. 

In other, unrelated languages, it has different meanings which might prove unfortunate if mixed up, including Indonesian, in which it also means cement, Maltese butter (from Arabic samn) and Mauritian and Seychellois Creole road, street (from French chemim), but those are all loan words.

See also the Russian speed skater Семён/Semion/Semen/Semyon Elistratov, who I mentioned in this post, whose name is the perfectly good Russian equivalent of Simon. 


Yesterday I had to type exilerating. WordPress’s spelling checker didn’t like that. Excilerating is just plain wrong. Google found exhilarating for me. Even though I know the word when I see, hear or think it, I can’t remember that I’ve ever written or typed it. A little Latin may help: it’s exhilarāre to cheer (see hilarity). It’s got nothing to do with exile (ex(s)ilium, from exsul banished person), but may be similar (in feeling) to excitement (citāre, frequentative of ciēre to set in motion). Exile is rarely exciting or exhilarating.


Hoju soju part 2

Some time ago I wrote about Gyopo soju, an Australian-made soju, and commented that they’d missed the opportunity to call themselves Hoju soju. One evening while we were in Korea in Dec-Jan, we had dinner with a friend of a friend, who we’d met when she and her family visited Australia last year. I mentioned this, then looked for more information and found that there is indeed another brand called Hoju soju. A medium-term project is to buy an order of both, for comparison. For research purposes, of course; I get no personal enjoyment out of this. Gyopo starts at AUD19.99 (for a 350 mL bottle) and Hoju at AUD49.90 (for a 500 mL bottle). Compared to about $2 a bottle in convenience stores in South Korea and $12 a bottle in my local bottle shop.

I notice that Gyopo is “the First Australia Made Soju” and Hoju is “the All Australian Soju”.

I have also previously written about flavoured sojus in Australia. At that time I mentioned encountering them while I was living in South Korea in 2015-16 but not in Australia. Since then, I have encountered them far more, and my local bottle shop only stocks flavoured varieties (at first, flavours I don’t like). But when we in South Korea in Dec 2022-Jan 2023, I didn’t see any, and my wife’s best friend seemed perplexed when I mentioned them.

Korea trip 2022-3

I am way behind on this. We got back to Australia on 27 Jan and I’ve been very busy since then. I’m going to publish a summary first, then add the details some time before our next visit.

Day 1 – Thurs 29 Dec 2022
Sydney to Incheon to Mokdong.

Day 2 – Fri 30 Jan.
I walked from Dongdaemun gate to Namsan to Namdaemun gate. My wife J joined me for a light festival at Gwanghwamun plaza.

Day 3 – Sat 31 Dec
We met our friend KJ near Mapo and walked along the river to Sky Park and the World Cup Stadium.

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A coffee shop chain in South Korea has posters in the form


By itself, more better is either jocular, dialectal or plain wrong. But this may be two separate ideas (MORE) and (BETTER) (“We serve more coffee than our competitors and the coffee and/or our service is better than theirs”). This is reinforced by other advertising stating “More and Better” and “The more the better”.

On several occasions when I have ordered a cappuccino, I have been surprised to be asked “warm or iced?”. To me, a cappuccino is either always hot (not merely warm; I would never order a warm cappuccino in Australia) or at least by default. Cappuccinos also standardly come with cinnamon sprinkled (again, I would never order cinnamon sprinkle). I am trying to get to “without cinnamon but with chocolate”. 


I saw a business named I ❤️ DOG, which I thought could be unfortunate given (some) Koreans’ well-known but diminishing consumption of boshintang. My guess was that it was either a pet-friendly cafe or accessories shop (or both). Looking more carefully the next time I passed, I saw that it was an accessories shop and grooming service. In standard English, I love dog can only mean as food.

I also saw a woman’s handbag with various texts, including I love a dog. This is grammatical, but sounds strange to me. One would usually specify which dog one loved (I love my dog) or state a love for dogs in general (I love dogs). Saying I love the dog would be even more confusing. I really would want to know which dog in particular you  love.

Koreans take their dogs very seriously. I have seen several dogs being wheeled along in what otherwise look like baby’s prams. There is an old saying “Dogs have owners, cat have staff”. Maybe not here in Korea.

(I’ve had students say “I love dog”. Also, from a post in 2015, about a class in 2006-8:

One of my classes was focusing on animals. I`ll mention that dogs are (occasionally) on the menu in Korea. One of the questions was “what characteristics are associated with each of these animals” eg industrious ants, busy bees, wise owls. We got to dogs, and several people said “loyal”, “companions” before one stopped the class by saying “delicious”.)

Korea trip 2022-3, the day before

This trip has been a long time coming. In September 2019 I got a full-time casual job which looked to be more stable than my previous part-time and/or casual and/or short-term work. I talked to my manager about the possibility of taking casual time off in September 2020 for an overseas holiday, and she agreed. By March 2020 my wife and I had generally agreed on two weeks in South Korea and two weeks in Europe. Then COVID travel restrictions happened.

Once restrictions were eased, we started planning again. In between, my causal job was reclassified as permanent ‘cos I’m awesome, which entitles me annual leave with full pay (4 weeks, for Australians). We decided to skip Europe and spend a month in Korea. We chose January because my work is a bit slower in January, plus there are several public holidays as well as my annual leave. My wife and her colleagues decided to shut their restaurant for the duration, to the disappointment of some customers, but they need a break after working very, very hard for a long, long time (with no annual leave allowance). My wife grumbled a bit about visiting in deep winter, but we’ll go at different times on future trips. I love the cold weather. I originally assumed that Lunar New Year/Seollal would fall after we left (because of the lunar calendar), but was pleased to find that it falls very early next year, and will be a few days before we leave. 

We investigated hotels in the Jongno/Eulji/Dongdaemun area but a brother and a friend of my wife offered accommodation in two different middle-range suburbs of greater Seoul, which means I will have to spend varying amounts of time on trains rather than actually doing things. But some things will be more convenient; her friend lives one station from a major historical site which is high on my list of things to do. My list is actually longer than the number of days we’ll be there. And that’s not counting the social engagements at short notice that will no doubt happen once my wife is there and contacting people. And that’s only in and around Seoul, with a few day and overnight trips. Several suggestions for a 3-4 day trip further afield have been left by the wayside.

Once I get there, I will give all monetary amounts in KRW. For reference, the exchange rate for major currencies today is KRW10,000 = GBP6.53 = EUR7.39 = USD7.86 = CAD10.63 = AUD11.68. (If you can’t remember that, the first approximation is KRW10,000 = more or less 10 of those.)

This blog is mostly anonymous (at least to people who don’t otherwise know who I am), which means that I can’t directly identify anyone else. I will refer to my wife as ‘J’, which is the initial of English name she sometimes uses. Everyone else will be some family or friend of hers or friend of mine, and/or initials. The first three are her brother DS and sister-in-law MH and friend HK. I will update when I can, but it may not be every day. There will be photos.

The last few days have been a combination of getting things done and not becoming too overwhelmed (with greater or lesser success). 

I have already set the alarm for 5 am tomorrow. The temperature in Sydney will be approaching 30 degrees by the time we leave, and will be below zero by the time we arrive at Incheon. Among other things, I need to pack suitable clothes in my carry-on.

Meanwhile, photos of my previous stays in 2006-09 and 2015-16 can be found here and here.

What big mystery

Four years ago I posted about the Latin text O magnum mysterium, and explored the links between the words in it and modern-day English words. Given that English is not a Latinate language, it is perhaps surprising that all but two of the Latin words have related words in English. Or perhaps not, because Latin was the primary language of the Christian church in England for at least approximately 950 years. 

One of the choirs I sing in recently sang the anthem to this text by Francis Poulenc. On the first page of the printed score was a French translation. French is a Latinate language, and it was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the Latin and French texts. Some words are very similar, some have been changed almost beyond recognition and some have been substituted for other words.

The Latin text is:
O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, iacentem in praesepio!
O beata virgo, cuius viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Iesum Christum.

The French text is:

Quel grand mystère et admirable sacrement, que des animaux aient pu voir, couché dans une crèche, le Seigneur vient de naître!
Bienheureuse Vierge dont les entrailles ont mérité de porter le Christ – Seigneur.

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