I’ve written a number of posts on the topic of one of the ‘wrong’ answers to a test question being at least partly right. Last week’s chapter included the topic of housework, and one of the housework tasks was ‘lay the table’. I suspect that very few people in English-speaking countries actually lay the table every day, only for special occasions or maybe Sunday lunch if that’s a fixture in the house. (People who only eat tv dinners wouldn’t ever lay the table. In my last year in Korea, I ate at my office desk, reading, viewing or listening to something on the computer.)
During the revision activity one sentence was something like ‘Please ____ the table for dinner’, with two of the choices being ‘lay’ and ‘put away’. A Korean student chose ‘put away’. I suddenly thought about traditional Korean tables, which look like this:
Older tables had/have fixed legs, but modern tables have foldable legs and the table can be put away in a cupboard or other storage space. The Korean student had obviously interpreted ‘the table for dinner’ as ‘the table from which we have just eaten dinner’, so putting it away is a valid choice. In English, ‘the table for dinner’ is ‘the table from which we will soon eat dinner’. In English, the command for putting away a foldable table would be ‘Please put away the table’.
Eating at these foldable tables is highly efficient – except for foreigners with bad backs. For Korean New Year (Jan-Feb) and Thanksgiving (Sep-Oct), my wife’s family could fit 15-20 adults and older children around two of these tables, with younger children coming and going and the foreigner with a bad back perched on the couch. Just as well chopsticks gave me extra reach.