One movie which is mentioned repeatedly on internet sites and videos about Korean movies is My sassy girl (2001) (trailer, Wikipedia). I remember a student mentioning it in 2006-2008 and have read about it, but never seen it. Yesterday I watched the trailer and found a Youtube channel which includes extended clips (possibly the whole movie in extended clips, which is of dubious legality, but I suspect that the producers put up with it as it’s ultimately publicity for them). As I was watching, my wife asked me what I was watching, so I gave the title in English and she said she didn’t know it. I said “It was super-famous at the time”. 

This morning she said something else about it, calling it My sexy girl, which is a reasonable mishearing. Koreans use 섹시, but as far as I know, it’s used more to mean cute rather than sexy. I said sassy again very carefully, and she said she didn’t know the word, or the movie. Then she said “What’s the Korean title?”. I didn’t know, so I had to check. It’s 엽기적인 그녀, which translates literally as Bizarre girl. Only then did she recognise the movie and say that she’d seen it.

To me, bizarre is one step (or even two steps) beyond sassy. The latter is probably a good thing, if that’s your taste in girls, but the former is probably a bad thing. From what I’ve seen of the movie, she is closer to bizarre than sassy. In fact, for most of the time, she seems in need of professional help.

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Korean movie titles in English

I’ve noticed this before, but watching and listening to a number of Youtube videos about Korean movies made me think about the way Korean movie titles are rendered in English. I can think of four general strategies. 

The first is when a Korean title is retained in English, because there’s no translation: 실미도 (sil-mi-do, Silmido) (a place) and 옥자 (og-ja, Okja) (the name of a giant pig). It might be possible to ‘translate’ the first as Suicide squad and the second as My giant pig. Note that 해운대 (hae-un-dae, Haeundae) (a place) is titled Tidal wave in English.

The second is when a Korean title is translated into English either exactly, 기생충 (gi-saeng-chung) > Parasite, or approximately 건축학개론 (geon-chuk-hak gae-ron, introduction to architecture) > Architecture 101 (though at least one Youtube video calls it Introduction to architecture).

The third is when an English title is completely different from the Korean: 괴물 (gwoe-mul, monster) became The host, possibly because of the US movie Monster just three years before, and note that the US movie The host came after the Korean one. Sometimes, multiple, unrelated movies share a title. 

The last, the most puzzling to me, is when a movie’s Korean title is a transliteration of English:  올드보이 (ol-deu-bo-i) and 아이 캔 스피크 (a-i kaen seu-pi-keu). Maybe Oldboy has a connotation of grittiness that 늙은 소년 just doesn’t, and whole point of I can speak is her learning to speak English. In these case, the English title is the same, just written in the English alphabet.


Youtube suggested a series of videos on Korean movies, including reviews of individual titles and lists of ‘best [genre]’ or ‘most [concept]’, of which I have watched some but not all. One of them included the movie 부러진 화살 (bu-reo-jin hwa-sal). The literal translation of the title is Broken arrow, but apparently it is officially titled Unbowed in English. 

In almost any other context unbowed would be /ʌnbaʊd/, as in bow and pray. But the presenter of the video pronounces it as /ʌnboʊd/, as in bow and arrow, which kind of makes sense, because the movie is about a university professor who is arrested, tried and convicted for shooting a crossbow at the presiding judge of his unsuccessful appeal against wrongful dismissal. While /boʊ/ as a verb and /boʊd/ as an adjective are used in carpentry (a bowed plank) and music (a bowed string), /ʌnboʊd/ as an adjective rarely is, because we would say a straight plank or a plucked string. And as far as I know or can find, /boʊ, boʊd, ʌnboʊd/ are never used in archery: Bow your arrows! The bowed arrows arced their way towards the advancing enemy. The arrows remained unbowed as the messenger approached. (And would bow as a verb in archery mean nock or draw or loose (basically the archery equivalent of ready, aim, fire)?) 

Intriguingly, bow and pray and bow and arrow are related through their common meaning of bend/bent, while bow and stern (rhymes with bow and pray) is unrelated, being related to bough (of a tree).

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whine bar

In a nearby town, I saw a

whine bar

Checking on the internet just now, I found that it is (as I suspected) a wine bar. Does the owner encourage whining, in either sense? Either way, it wouldn’t be a fun place.

“I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started”

Practicing past perfect tense, a student wrote:

I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started.

This felt (and still feels) strange to me, but I can’t figure out why. It is perfectly clear and follows the general rule of tense sequences. I would naturally say I arrived at the cinema before the movie started, because the sequence of events is clearly indicated by before.

The only reason I can think of for the strangeness is that we rarely use past perfect in the main clause of a sentence. But does that mean we never do? 

I have less problem with more context:

My friends always teased me for being late for everything, but here I was. I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started. 

I also have less problem with reversing the halves of the sentence:

Before the movie started, I had arrived at the cinema.

or the equivalent:

The movie started after I had arrived at the cinema.

(Though in each case, I would probably omit had.)

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Edison Denisov

I chanced on a reference to a Russian composer named Edison Denisov, about whom I know nothing other than his name, which is … almost an anagram. In fact, his middle name (patronymic) is Vasilievich, so Edison V Denisov is an anagram. (Vasili Denisov was a scientist.) As far I understand Cyrillic, it doesn’t work in Russian: the Э of his first name and the е of his second are different letters – Эдисо́н В Дени́сов. (The acute accent on a different letter in each name serves to mark stress, and doesn’t make a different letter.)

I must listen to some of his music sometime.

O lonely me!

Two of the choirs I sing in are holding regular online sessions to keep us going musically and socially. The conductor of one choir finishes each session with a rousing rending of something well-known (which we have to sing by ourselves to her piano accompaniment, because it is impossible to sync multiple people within an online session). Last night’s rend was the Italian song O sole mio. To the extent that I’d ever thought about it, I had assumed that it meant O alone/lonely me, because sole is obviously the same word as only/alone/lonely and mio is obviously the same word as me. As the conductor was scrolling around the music on her screen that she had shared within the online session, I saw that the English title is My sun

Latin sōl, sun became Italian sole; solus (only) (which I knew through the liturgical text Quoniam tu solus sanctus) became solo; me stayed as me; and meus became mio. So O alone/lonely me would be O solo me. Except that Latin and Italian don’t use object/accusative pronouns in this way; it would have to be O solo io, the equivalent of English O alone/lonely I.

O sole mio is actually in Neapolitan, which is either a dialect of Italian or a closely related Italo-Romance language, depending on who you ask, but there’s far more about Italian on the internet, so I had to rely on that. 

I wondered whether sōl/sole and solus/solo are related, because the sun is possibly the prototypical example of something alone, but no. But they both have been traced back to proto-Indo-European, so they’re both very old words.

There are four related issues. The first is that using adjectives before pronouns is restricted to examples such as poor you or lucky me (compare *tall you and *short me). The second is that me is more natural here than I (while you is both the subject/nominative and object/accusative form). The third is that lonely can be used attributively or predicatively: I am lonely, O lonely me, while alone can only be used predicatively: I am alone, *O alone me. The fourth is that only, alone and lonely are all based on one and that only is very different: *I am only, *O only me