Some years ago (first guess, last century, more likely the 1980s than the 1990s) I heard a song Is ’e an Aussie, is ’e Lizzie? by the duo Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam (I seem to remember simply ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’). At the time I didn’t have access to the resources of the internet but I have recently found that they were the English songwriter/pianist/tenor Bentley Collingwood Hilliam and the New Zealand bass Malcolm McEachern. They performed light comic “with mild social commentary” and sentimental songs. (I also accidentally found the thrash metal band Flotsam and Jetsam, who presumably don’t.)

Is ’e an Aussie is apparently typical. (I recently included a link in a comment to a recent post, and my number one commenter of recent times, Batchman, said that it didn’t work in the USA. Try here or here or here, or search for ‘Is ’e an Aussie Flotsam Jetsam’.) It features rapid-fire and witty rhyming, almost all of it to do with Australia. In fact, in the first rhyme, Lizzie tells her girlfriend:

Mary-Anne I’ve met a man who says he’s an Austray-lee-an 

She says that he:

Throws a fond eye, talks of Bondi

But later we learn that:

He, being well-born, lived in Melbourne

Hang on …

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여러 분 추석 잘 보내세요!

Chuseok isn’t a holiday in Australia, of course, so I spent the day working, listening to Korean music or semi-watching Korean hiking videos for most of the time. Youtube suggested two videos of old photos of Seoul, dating from 1884 and 1984 respectively. (A lot happened in between!)

The first is on the 대한여지도 Korean Geographic channel, and has photos taken by Percival Lowell. (There are other similar videos – follow the links.)

If you can’t see a video above, try here, or search for eg ‘youtube korean geographic seoul 1884 percival lowell’.

The second is the 복원왕 Restoration King channel, and has colourised photos. (There are other similar videos – follow the links.)

If you can’t see a video above, try here, or search for eg ‘youtube restoration king life in seoul 1984’.

The next video I watched was from 1979, and the Yeouido 63 Building was conspicuously absent (it was started in 1980). While I was watching it, I had the sudden thought that it would be interesting to compare then and now (if possible). The screenshot for the second video above should be relatively easy, but the screenshot for the first video is probably under an apartment building or department store.

I also remembered seeing a video at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza of the view from Namsan, with the buildings risings up animatedly over time.

Curiouser and curiouser

I recently discovered the Youtube channel It’s okay to be smart, hosted by Joe Hanson, which presents bite-sized chunks of general science at about my level of general science. He finishes each video saying “Stay curious”. I assume that means wondering and eager to learn or know, and not causing interest and speculation by being unusual. I assume the first meaning came first. Because of the two meanings, it is (just) possible to say “Very curious people are often very curious”.

A prescriptivist’s playlist

I’ve been listening to a lot of pop song compilations recently. With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek:

All shaken up
Another somebody did somebody wrong song
Bobby McGee and I
Doesn’t it make my brown eyes blue?
I can’t get any satisfaction or I can get no satisfaction
I have you, babe or I’ve got you, babe 
Lie, lady, lie
Lo que será, será
Love me tenderly
Mrs Jones and I
There isn’t any mountain high enough or There’s no mountain high enough
Two fewer lonely people in the world
You haven’t seen anything yet or You’ve seen nothing yet

1) One of these definitely doesn’t belong here, because the original is unquestionably correct (or at least is questionable in another way). A free lifetime subscription to this blog to anyone who can point out which.

2) I stuck with titles, being easier to search for. I’m sure there are many more titles and many, many more lyrics. You can search for ‘pop music grammar errors’ to find more examples of ‘errors’, including within song lyrics. Some of these ‘errors’ actually are, but most of the lists fail to take into account that …

3) Informal spoken (or sung) English exists. I can (in some cases only just) accept each of the originals here as common informal spoken (or sung) English. That doesn’t mean that I say or write them, or would accept them without question in an ESL class. I said many times “Many people say X, but ‘correct, exam English’ is Y”.

[PS It’s possible that Two less lonely people in the world is prescriptively correct, too, if it is interpreted as Two + less lonely + people. But it’s hardly romantic to say “Before I met you, I was lonely. Now I am … less lonely.”]


In a comment to a recent post, I mixed up the Korean words 색 (saek, colour) and 책 (chaek, book). Two words which I often mix up are 의사 (ui-sa, doctor) and 의자 (chair). Of course I can tell the difference between colours and books, and doctors and chairs in real life (but maybe a doctor is chairing a meeting!), but the words kind of look the same. In fact, the consonant letters of the Korean alphabet were designed to illustrate the connections between the sounds they represent. They are (with their most common transliterations):

ㅁ m ㅂ b ㅍ p

ㄴ n ㄷ d ㅌ t 

ㅇ ng ㄱ g ㅋ k

ㅅ s ㅈ j ㅊ ch ㅎ h 

(Annoyingly, Korean typewriter/computer keyboards don’t advantage of these patterns. My Korean typing is very slow.) (Compare the IPA chart.)

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One of the challenges of family history research is variations in the spellings of names, among and between family sources or official records (and some searchable databases are very badly transcribed). I couldn’t find my mother’s mother’s birth record, then thought to search for the equivalent of McArthur rather than Macarthur. Similarly, I was also able to find her grandparents’ marriage record in a province of Canada (her grandfather was serving in the British army at the time, and her father was born in Bermuda). 

For given names, there are Catherine/Katherine, Alexandr(i)a and Ann(i)(e)/Anna, Mary Ann(e)/Anna, Mary-Ann(e) and Marianne. One relative I didn’t know the existence of until very recently (a great-grandfather’s sister) is rendered as Matilda M A on her birth record, Matilda M on her marriage record and the birth records for three children, Matilda Marrianna on her death record and the Find a grave website, Matilda Mary A on one son’s death record and Marianne Matilda on the other’s. The name Marrianna exists, but is far less common than all those other variations.

I found her and three more siblings because my father’s family history notes refer to ‘the rest of the family’ (that is, not my great-grandfather or the brother we knew about, mainly because those two married sisters). My father had a lot of information about his mother’s mother’s side and a medium amount about his father’s father’s side. This family is his mother’s father’s side, and I’ve found his older sibling who died young, three younger siblings and 13 nieces and nephews. Any more research is limited by publicly searchable records being restricted to more than 100 years for births, 50 or 60 years for marriages and 30 years for deaths. I also had basically nothing about his father’s mother’s side, but was able to connect a few dots and find an extensive listing of her relatives in England and Canada. The compiler of that website didn’t know that she had come to Australia. There’s an intriguing story about her, which I’m still waiting for a reply from a historical organisation about, so won’t tell you now.

[PS 19 Sep: My searches of the Births, Deaths and Marriages records in Victoria and New South Wales failed to find a small number of distant relatives who I know exist(ed). I’ve started over on those ones, trying every combination of spelling that I can, and have found most of the missing ones. It is not uncommon for someone’s name to be spelled different on their birth, marriage and death record (which might be a transcription error).

Questions, questions!

Several months ago, while waiting for my morning coffee, I heard a woman nearby say on her phone 

Are you still in bed, are you?

It’s certainly clear, but it’s not a standard question structure. We can easily have

You’re still where
You’re still in bed?
Are you still in bed?
You’re still in bed, aren’t you?
You’re not/You aren’t still in bed, are you?

and possibly

You’re still in bed, are you?

but not 

You’re not/You aren’t still in bed, aren’t you?

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Our church has been running Sunday and weekday services online for some time. Last week, one prayer leader introduced the prayers with a formula something like “For the world/particular people, we intercess”. I really shouldn’t be thinking about linguistics when I really should be praying, but obviously intercess piqued my interest. 

Without doubt, intercede is the ‘correct’ word here, but intercess is clear and makes perfect sense. It’s in Wiktionary, but not any other dictionary I searched. A general Google search takes me to intercede, intercession or intercessor, but using “intercess” in quotation marks finds a scattering of uses in the relevant sense. Also, Google Ngrams shows a flat line rather than ‘no results’, meaning some use, but close to zero compared with intercede. Pages for Mac changes intercess to internees and intercessing to interceding and red-underlines then when I change them back.  

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A new unit of hearing loss – the Jagger

In my last post, I mentioned that a colleague had mentioned the Rolling Stones song 2000 light years from home. I’m not a Stones fan and didn’t know it, so I searched for it and found the video and lyrics, started the video and … couldn’t hear any lyrics. Maybe it was an instrumental piece, or an instrumental version of a song, but the video said “Official”. I finally thought to flip my headphones, and there was Mick. 

I have been significantly deaf in one ear since contracting measles at an early age. I wasn’t sure if I’d mentioned that here; a quick search doesn’t show that I have. I’ve had some problems with headphones before, but this was just another level. 

That evening, I realised that despite several listens, I had no clear memory of what the song actually sounded like, except that it had a prominent keyboard part. The next morning I listened again and … could’t hear any keyboard. It seems that the vocal is entirely on one track, the keyboard (Brian Jones) is on another and the the guitars and drums are on both. When I flipped the headphones again, I could just sense … something in that ear, but wouldn’t have known that it was a voice, or Mick, or what the words actually are. The only way I can get the full effect is to to listen without headphones. But with one or two people in the house all day, I use the headphones. 

My mother told me that I had moderate hearing loss in one ear. Later, I realised that she was probably understating that. On the scale of mild, moderate, moderate-severe, severe and profound hearing loss, I am at least severe – the audiogram I found shows me going off the bottom end of the scale at 80 dB. In one ear. Fortunately, I have normal enough hearing in my other ear. Some years ago, I asked my father what he knew, and he said very little; my mother had taken me to audiologists all those years ago. 

This hasn’t stopped me studying classical music (specifically piano) and singing in choirs, but has had a number of other consequences, especially easily becoming overwhelmed in enclosed, noisy spaces. Also, if I can’t hear Mick directly in my bad ear, it makes me wonder what else I’ve missed out on along the way. The fact that I am now working as a legal editor, either in a mostly-quiet office or at home, isn’t coincidental. 

Meanwhile, how far is 2000 light years? This page gives the approximate thickness of the plane of the Milky Way galaxy at the Sun’s location as 1500 light years, and the distance to Deneb as 3200 light years, if that helps. Certainly, we’e talking on a galactic scale. But the song mentions Aldebaran between mentioning 1000 light years and 2000 light years. But Aldebaran is (only) 65 million light years away.

Trail mix tape

Several years ago I posted about the distance 10,000 miles, which occurs in several songs. I suggested that it’s the archetypal long distance because it is the furthest away (in nautical miles) one can travel on Earth. (Presumably it came into use after long-distance sailing became common.) I mentioned that A space oddity has the distance 100,000 miles, which is less than half-way to the moon.

This morning a colleague mentioned that today is Trail Mix Day. I said in a group email that I was going to make a selection of songs and call it a trail mix tape (not an original joke), and suggested These boots are made for walking, Over hill, over dale, Climb every mountain, I’m gonna be (500 miles), 500 miles away from home and 10,000 miles. I pondered what longer distances are mentioned in songs. After I sent that email, I also thought about Fly me to the moon and The final countdown (“We’re heading for Venus”). Then a colleague replied with 2000 light years from home, which I topped with Across the universe, Stairway to heaven and Highway to hell (though those don’t mention actual distances). 

Apropos the last two, there are several cartoons with two men wearing a Led Zeppelin and AC/DC t-shirt respectively. One version has the Led Zep fan saying “We split ways here”.