Coming home

There are multiple songs titled “Coming home” or “Going home”. Wikipedia lists 61 songs titled “(I’m) Comin(g) home” and 31 titled “(I’m) Goin(g) home”, as well as albums, books and movies.

I mixed up two of them. The song I remembered clearly (“I’m coming home”) was written and sung by Australian duo Beeb Birtles and Graeham Goble. The name I remembered was English singer David Essex (who sang, and probably wrote, “Coming home”). Either one (and many others with the same title) illustrate an interesting point about English grammar. Usually, we go from ‘here’ to ‘there’, or come from ‘there’ to ‘here’. In each song, the singer is somewhere other than ‘home’, so would usually sing about going ‘home’; that is, from ‘here’ to ‘there’. But each sings about coming ‘there’. The Birtles and Goble song begins:

Ma
I’m coming home
So take my picture off the wall
I’ve had enough of being alone

The Essex song includes:

There’s no question in my mind that I’m coming home tonight

English grammar (or the brains of the people who speak it) allows us to think and speak about ‘there’ as temporarily more important than ‘here’, especially if we are talking to someone who is actually ‘there’. The Birtles and Goble song specifies that the singer in talking to his mother and father on the phone, so ‘the important place’ is ‘home’, not wherever the singer is (in those days, a phone box somewhere). If the singer was talking to someone where he currently was, he would say “I’m going home”. The Essex song doesn’t specify who he is singing to, or how. Maybe he is singing to himself in his head or out loud, but the point remains that ‘the important place’ is ‘home’.

In fact, both songs also use go(ing) home. In the second verse of the Birtles and Goble song, the singer sings: 

Dad,
I’ll see you soon
Don’t keep me talking on the phone
You’re wasting time
I’ve gotta move
I’m going home

So right now, the important place has switched to ‘here’.

In the Essex song, the switch happens between yesterday, when he decided he “[had] to go … back home”, and tonight, when he’s thinking about coming (or arriving) home. Note that the opposite flip cannot occur: the singer’s parents can only say “You’re coming home?!”.

The same flip can also happen with take and bring. We usually take from ‘here’ to ‘there’ and bring from ‘there’ to ‘here’, but sometimes ‘there’ can be more important. Our niece is currently undertaking a work experience placement as part of her nursing course. One of her tasks is to escort patients who have had treatment in the specialised section she’s working in back to their wards. Before she does, she has to phone the ward and say “I’m (taking/bringing) [Name] to the ward now”. She asked me whether she should say take or bring. I gave her a brief précis of the above. When she is talking to her supervisor in the specialised section, the most important place is ‘here’, so she would say “I’m taking [Name] to the ward now”. When she is talking to the ward nurse on the phone, the most important place is ‘there’, so she would say “I’m bringing [Name] to the ward now”.

One Korean textbook I’ve read says that Korean never works like this: I can only tell you that I’m going to your party on Saturday night, not that I’m coming to it. Given the very small number of Korean parties I’ve ever been invited to, I don’t know whether that’s true or not.

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