“You may now kiss the priest”

All of the languages I know anything about, and probably all languages ever, have words that mean two or more completely different things, with greater or lesser chance of confusion depending on whether two meanings are likely to be used in the same context.

The Korean word 신부 (shin-bu) means priest and bride, which are very likely to be used in the same context. A Korean Anglican priest friend of mine sometimes posts information about seminars on his Facebook book page, and Facebook’s autotranslator usually renders the keynote speaker as eg Hong Gil-dong Bride rather than Hong Gil-dong Priest. (“You may now kiss the 신부” wasn’t in our wedding service; in fact it’s not officially in any church wedding service I know anything about.)

I have just stumbled across (I have forgotten exactly how) the 2004 Korean movie 신부수업 (shin-bu su-oeb), which is either ‘the priest’s lesson’ or ‘the bride’s lesson’ (or possibly deliberately both). Probably to avoid spoiling the ambiguity, the movie is titled Love, so divine in English (with a nod to the hymn When I survey the wondrous cross). Youtube has the complete movie, which is not subtitled in English, which I’m probably going to get sucked into watching anyway, in the name of linguistic research. (Trailer half-way down this page.)

At the beginning there is neither a priest nor a bride; he is a Roman Catholic seminarian and she is a soon-to-be-single woman. At the end, there can only be one of a priest or a bride; either he stays true to his priestly vocation or they get married (or at least coupled). (If it was the Anglican Church of Korea, which also uses the title 신부, there’d be no problem.)

 (Both meanings of 신부 are derived from Chinese, but have different Chinese characters: 神父 for priest and 新婦 for bride.)

(There is another movie 어린 신부, which is either about a young priest or a young bride. A brief search clearly answers that one.)

(PS I showed my wife the movie poster and title in Korean, and asked which she thought of first when she heard or read 신부. She pointed at the woman, but then said “The man’s clothes look like 신부님”, so maybe ‘priest’ is always/often used with the honorific. At several points in the movie so far, the young man has addressed the older priest as 신부님.)

(PPS Now that I’ve watched the whole movie, I’m not totally sure about how it ended. Whichever way, it was very understated. I might have to ask my wife to watch at least the last few scenes. But I’m sure that the 신부 of the title is the young man/seminarian/future priest.)

(PPPS The bigger question is how native speakers and second language learners of any language resolve ambiguities, including homonyms.)


5 thoughts on ““You may now kiss the priest”

  1. On the topic of translating movie titles, the French film “Cousin, Cousine” (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072826/) simply used the same title on the Anglophone side. It would have been ineffective to call it “Cousin, cousin” and too awkward to use “Male cousin, female cousin” as the title. At least the English title chosen for this Korean film was able to exploit multilayered senses for “divine.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure that TV Tropes has a page on titles or other important information which is spoiled by translation, especially into or out of gendered languages. FWIW, I think the recent Korean movie should have been titled Parasites.


  2. Another thought: in English there is a double meaning and potential ambiguity around the verb “marry,” so if a priest marries a bride, it could be perfectly acceptable in the context of performing a wedding service, or else not so acceptable…

    Liked by 1 person

    • A few years ago someone on English Language Learners Stack Exchange asked about this, and I explained that a valid wedding requires *both* an exchange of promises by a consenting, non-prohibited couple (who marry each other) *and* a declaration by an authorised celebrant (who marries them).
      In fact at the time of Australia’s same-sex marriage plebiscite, I checked various points of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), and found there’s no requirement for the celebrant to verbally declare the marriage – the only requirement is the issuance of a certificate.
      I can’t imagine any celebrant *not* stating that, or if they didn’t, any couple *not* saying “Hang on, aren’t you meant to say …”
      I suspect that overwhelmingly most weddings use a formed order of service, whether a church’s or a civil celebrants.
      Our official wedding was in a government office in Seoul, at which I said absolutely nothing, and didn’t understand anything the officer said to my wife. Several months later we had a church wedding at which everything was said in Korean and English. We celebrate our church wedding anniversary, not our civil one.


  3. Pingback: No hugging, no kissing | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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