ABC lists – cities/towns I’ve been to

I spent rather too long last night thinking about making alphabetical lists of things rather than, you know, actually going to sleep. I thought about making a list of interesting cities/towns I’ve been to, but decided to start with the biggest cities/towns. I got about halfway through last night, then had to do a some extra searching (for cities/towns and populations) this morning. From this list, it’s obvious where I’ve lived or travelled. In some cases the ‘going to’ has been quite brief – a matter of hours.

Amsterdam (NL)
Busan (SK) (or Bangkok, Thailand if you count one hour at the airport)
Christchurch (NZ) (367,000), honourable mention to Canberra (Aus) (356,000) and Cardiff (Wales, UK) (341,000) – I thought they might be similar sizes. (Our overnight stop was at a motorway motel outside Cologne, Germany but we didn’t even see the city in the distance, so I won’t count that.)
Daegu (SK)
Elizabeth (SA, Aus) – there are very few cities and towns starting with E, so I had to choose a suburb (of Adelaide)
Fukuoka (Jap)
Goyang (SK)
Hong Kong (SAR of PRC)
Incheon (SK)
Jeonju (SK)
Kalgoorlie (WA, Aus)
London (Eng, UK)
Melbourne (Vic, Aus)
Newcastle (NSW, Aus)
Orange (NSW, Aus)
Paris (Fra)
Queanbeyan (NSW, Aus)
Rockhampton (Qld, Aus)
Seoul (SK)
Townsville (Qld, Aus)
Uijongbu (SK)
Victor Harbor (SA, Aus)
Wollongong (NSW, Aus)
X – none. There is one place name in Australia – Xantippe, WA, which is 300 km north-west of Perth and which Google Maps shows is located in the general vicinity of Rabbit Proof Fence Rd and Struggle St. Either I plan a trip there, or central China.
Yongin (SK)
Z none. There’s about 20 place names in Australia, the most notable of which are Zetland (Syd, NSW (I’ve been under it – Green Square railway station is located in one corner)),  Zillmere (Bris, Qld) (located off the major arterial roads, so I haven’t even passed through it) and Zeehan (I haven’t been to Tasmania at all). Maybe I can stop off at Zhengzhou on my way to Xi’an.

Unexplained and puzzling usage advice

I have posted before about unexplained and puzzling advice on language-related websites. This kind of advice is given in terms of ‘that is wrong, this is right’. I stumbled across a website which gives generally correct and useful advice on English vocabulary, grammar and usage for second-language learners. But on one page, among 13 pieces of unexceptional advice, are three pieces of unexplained and puzzling advice on word usage. I won’t identify the website, because I don’t want to name and shame; this person has obviously put a lot of time and effort into the site and the advice is generally correct and useful. The name and photo indicate someone from a major English-speaking country, one sentence uses the spelling center, many of the mistakes sound typical of Indian English, and one sentence mentions Chennai, so draw your own conclusions from that.

The website has a page of ‘Common mistakes in the use of nouns’. Only one piece of advice comes with an explanation:

Incorrect: I am learning a new poetry.
Correct: I am learning a new poem.
Poetry means poems collectively.

The three puzzling pieces of advice are:

(1) Incorrect: He enquired about your state of health.
(2) Correct: He enquired about the state of your health.
(3) Incorrect: My English is very weak.
(4) Correct: I am very weak in English.
(5) Incorrect: Why are you standing in the center of the street?
(6) Correct: Why are you standing in the middle of the street? [my numbering]

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On Sunday a former colleague in Korea posted on Facebook that he was attending a performance of the musical Cats in Seoul. Someone else asked him if it was in English or Korean. He replied that it was in English, without mentioning whether the performers were Korean or foreign. I later discovered that the production is, in fact, Australian.

Translating any poetry is difficult, given the competing requirements of meaning, meter and sound, especially in this case Eliot’s idiosyncratic English and Lloyd Webber’s world-famous music. Despite all that, Cats has been translated – Wikipedia says into more than 20 languages (with citing a source), and the show’s official website says 15 languages. Neither source lists the translations.

One obvious problem with any translation is the words cat and cats, which are so important in the meter of the poems and the rhythm of music. These are not necessarily one syllable in other languages. Taking four major European languages as examples, only French (chat, chats) has monosyllable equivalents, while German (Katze, Katzen), Italian (gatto, gatti) and Spanish (gato, gatos) have bisyllabic ones. The situation is even worse in Korean, where cat is 고양이 (go-yang-i) and cats is either 고양이 or 고양이들 (go-yang-i-deul – the plural marker is optional and usually omitted). So 고양이들 has as many syllables as ‘Jellicle cats’. (Google Translate translates ‘Jellicle songs for Jellicle cats’ (9 syllables) as ‘젤리 클 고양이의 젤리 클 노래’ (12 syllables).

From what I’ve found on this internet, all the publicity for this production in Seoul uses the English word Cats. I also found another production called Original 어린이 캣’s (Original children cat’s) which played in Seoul from late 2016 to mid-2017 (I saw posters for this in Daejeon before I left there in August 2016).

I’ve got more to say about this, but I need to do more research.

die/dye/dye it/diet

One of the topics in the textbooks this week was clothes and fashion, including hair. What’s left of my hair might fairly be described as ‘greying’ (rather than ‘grey’). I said ‘My wife wants me to dye my hair. Do you think I should?’. One student said ‘Yes, I think you should dye’ — which, of course, sounds exactly like ‘I think you should die’.

die/dye is used in at least one limerick which I could vaguely remember but couldn’t find on the internet. Fortunately, one of the limerick books I have is organised alphabetically by the last word of the first line, so I easily found it there. It runs:

Said a fair-headed maiden of Klondike,
‘Of you I’m exceedingly fond, Ike.
To prove I adore you,
I’ll dye, darling, for you,
And be a brunette, not a blonde, Ike.’

I vaguely remembered the third and fourth lines as ‘To prove that I’m true/I’d dye, dear, for you’. This limerick is probably more effective when spoken rather than when read.

There is another joke which relies on dye it/diet, which I similarly can’t find. It’s something like:

Girlfriend/wife: I don’t like my hair colour/My hair is going grey. Do you think I should dye it?
Boyfriend/husband: [something unkind about her weight]

PS It might have been the other way round:

Her: My bum is too big. I’m going to diet.
Him: What colour?

McDonald’s Uncle and KFC Grandpa

Today’s topic was fashion, and to give the students ideas for free talking, I searched for ‘image fashion’. One picture showed a woman with very big, very red hair. One student said ‘Looks like McDonald’s Uncle’. I asked ‘Is that what you call him?’ and they said ‘Yes, McDonald’s [Chinese word]’. I asked ‘Do you know his name in English?’ and they said ‘No’, so I metaphorically gritted my teeth and told them. Then a student said ‘What about KFC Grandpa?’. Oh dear, now I’m a tool of Big Fast Food.

I found that Harland Sanders‘s colonelcy is not a military one, but an honorary title bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky on just about anyone. I can’t find anything on the website of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels about the use of the title ‘Colonel’. If Mr HD Sanders can be ‘Colonel Sanders’, then we can equally have ‘Colonel Presley’, ‘Colonel Ali’ and ‘Colonel Trump’.


Birth by psychoprophylaxis

When I was 4 years and 5 months old, my younger sister (then 1 year and 11 months) and I stayed for three weeks with our grandparents while our mother was in hospital and recovering. They were inveterate letter-writers and our mother kept (?many ?most ?all) of their letters from all times, and all of the letters from that time. Some years ago she photocopied the ones from that time and gave them to me in a plastic folder. I knew I had it, but found it while tidying up recently and have been reading them. There are comments relevant to first language acquisityion and use, but my first extract is about something not related to me.

In one of his letters, my grandfather suddenly broke off talking about my mother’s health and my sister’s and my doings to talk about a birth notice my grandmother had seen in the Melbourne newspaper. After the obvious details of names, place and date was ‘Birth by psychoprophylaxis’. He commented ‘It is the first time we have seen the final word in a notice’.

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On Tuesday a student about the difference between lay and lie. I gave a brief explanation to the effect that lay is transitive. It needs a direct object – hens lay eggs and humans lay tables. Lie is intransitive. It does not need, in fact it actively resists, a direct object – hens do not lie eggs and humans do not lie tables. (But some people use lay intransitively – Bob Dylan invites a lady to lay on his big brass bed and Gloria Gaynor’s ex-boyfriend thought she’d lay down and die, to varying degrees of horror from the purists.) I said to the student that it is very easy to get these two verbs mixed up, and many native English speakers do. (It does not help that the past simple form of lie is lay.)

By coincidence, Wednesday’s listening included the adjective laid-back, which I didn’t comment on at the time, because I knew Thursday’s lesson expanded on hyphenated adjectives. But it struck me that laid-back is built on the transitive lay-laid-laid and not the intransitive lie-lay-lain. If you are laid-back, then presumably it’s because someone or something has laid you back somewhere, and not because you have lain back somewhere. I’ve consulted several dictionaries and searched generally online, but I can’t find anything about this. Maybe the concept is reflexive: you have laid yourself back. Or maybe informal words don’t have to follow the rules of grammar.

In yesterday’s class, I briefly mentioned this to the student, then said ‘The word is laid-back, whether it comes from lay or lie’. Another student then asked about the other lie, to tell an untruth.