I wish you’d read this

Monday’s lesson was about the patten “I wish you/people would …” and “I wish I could …”. Yesterday’s was about “I regret doing that. I wish I hadn’t done that” and “I regret not doing that. I wish I had done that”. I gave some textbook examples then elicited real-life examples from the students. Some time into the lesson, one student arrived late. I said “I wish you’d come on time”, then immediately thought “Oohh, I’ll have to talk to them about that”.

“I wish you’d come on time” is perfectly ambiguous between “I wish you would come on time” and “I wish you had come on time”. With most other main verbs, we can tell the difference, because would is followed by the base form of a verb, while had is followed by the past participle form. Taking a similar verb as an example, we can tell the difference between “I wish you’d arrive on time” (would) and “I wish you’d arrived on time” (had).

This ambiguity arises only when the base and past participle forms are the same, which is the case only with come, become and run; burst, cost, cut, hit, hurt, let, put, set and shut; and read (but only in writing, which I didn’t think about until I came to write the title of this blog; how did you interpret that?).

If I was talking to a student who was usually on time but wasn’t on this occasion, “I wish you’d come on time” would be inferred to mean “I wish you had come on time (today)”. But this student is habitually late (I think she comes directly from work), so there is no immediate way of telling the difference. Of course, I could always clearly say “I wish you would …” or “I wish you had …”. 


Auto-subtitling of winter olympics broadcasts

The auto-subtitling for the broadcasts of the winter olympic games on Australian television (provided by an independent company) seems to have three approaches to rendering the many different names of competitors from many different countries.

The first is to leave them out completely, which sometimes leaves a gap in the sentence. The second is to take a wild guess at it. Several times. It tried four times to spell the surname of the eventual winner of the men’s luge David Gleirscher before, obviously, a human overrode it, after which it was rendered correctly. The third is obviously when a human has provided the names already, for example Saturday night’s speed skaters Carlijn Achtereekte, Sjinkie Knegt and the unfortunately named Semen Elistratov. (It’s a perfectly good Russian/Ukranian equivalent of Simon. Most sources give his name as Semen, but Wikipedia renders Семён as Semion.)

So obviously there is some level of human programming of some different names from some different countries. The competitor list has been available for days or weeks or months (and these people have been on the competitive circuit for years), so why don’t they use it?

In 2012 Victoria Azarenka won the Australia open tennis championships. During the presentation ceremony, the auto-subtitling referred to her as ‘Victoria as a drinker’. Surely it (or the humans behind it) can do better than that.

(I’d like to make it clear that I don’t fully understand how auto-subtitling of live programs works, and that the humans behind it do a much better job than I would be able to do.)

(added 17 Feb: last night in the women’s aerials, the commentators were saying the names of the Chinese competitors family name first, but the autosubtitling was giving them given name first.)


“Nice Korea” and “Naughty Korea”

For some years there was a free commuter newspaper on Sydney’s and Melbourne’s trains, generally focusing on lighter news and popular culture rather than incisive journalism. Each day of the 2012 summer olympics in London, it published a medal table and stories of interest. After several days of competition, South and North Korea were fourth and fifth on the medal table. The paper named them “Nice Korea” and “Naughty Korea” respectively. The (North) Korean Central News Agency was not impressed, issuing a statement accusing the paper of “a bullying act little short of insulting the Olympic spirit of solidarity, friendship and progress and politicising sports”. (I think there should be a comma after progress”.) It went on, seemingly without irony, “Media are obliged to lead the public in today’s highly-civilised world where [the] mental and cultural level of mankind is being displayed at the highest level”. Including, presumably, the (North) Korean Central News Agency. It might have been worse; they might have referred to them as “nasty Korea”.

On Thursday, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea held a military parade. Last night, the Republic of Korean hosted the opening ceremony of the winter olympic games. Take your pick.

mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen,  신사 숙녀 여러분

At the opening ceremony of the winter olympic games (video, article), announcements were made in French, English and Korean. French is a holdover from the pre-World War I origin of the IOC. The opening formulas in each language are mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen and  신사 숙녀 여러분 (shin-sa sung-nyeo yeo-reo bun, gentleman/men, lady/ies, all people) (thanks to my wife for the last one; it hasn’t cropped up in Korean for foreigners books, as we are unlikely to be giving formal speeches).

French and English puts the women first. Is this just courtesy to the “fairer sex”? I once read somewhere that the formula was originally ‘my lords, ladies and gentlemen’, addressing the men and women of the nobility and the men with knighthoods, but I can’t find anything about that now. And that doesn’t explain the French. Most French nobles had their heads or titles removed during the revolution. The wording “gentlemen and ladies” does exist, but is about one-tenth as common as “ladies and gentlemen”. Conversely, “boys and girls” is about four times as common as “girls and boys”. “Gentlewoman” is now obsolete. Continue reading


Yesterday I posted about the suffix -(a)holic. This is an example of what the US linguist Arnold Zwicky has termed a libfix – that is, a portion of an existing word which is “liberated” and used as an affix (usually a suffix) to create a new word, retaining some of the meaning of the existing word. This is not a new phenomenon, but has certainly become more common in the last 50 years; -(a)holic as a libfix dates from 1965. Some of these words have established themselves, but many remain marginal. Because of this, there are no consolidated lists of them. One of the best I found was an article by the US linguist/blogger Neal Whitman in The Week. He lists and briefly explains:

-ana, -burger, -cation, -dar, -erati, -fu, -gate, -gasm, -inator, -jitsu, -kini, -licious, -mageddon, -nomics, -omics, -preneur, -que, -rama/-orama, -stock, -tacular, -tainment, -tastic, -tini, -tard, -verse, -wich and -zilla. (If you don’t recognise any of those, click through to the article.)

There are more – he doesn’t list -(a)holic and I can also think of –splaining (which can even be used as a word in its own right; there is a difference between explaining and splaining. You see, splaining is when someone … oh, right). Some of these are imaginative, and some will last; others are awkward and/or lazy – every slight political scandal is now a –gate.

PS two examples from real life. This morning at a supermarket I spotted perinaise (peri peri + mayonnaise). This afternoon while driving I was behind a car belonging to someone offering mobile spray tans (?why). The first word of the small print was ‘Glamourlicious’. Just in case ‘glamourous’ isn’t … glamourous enough. (My preference is for ‘our’ spellings, but ‘glamourous’ looks kind of wrong, but I can’t quite bring myself to use ‘glamorous’ (as opposed to mentioning it, which I just did).


Two days ago the textbook had a reading about a course for “speedaholics”. I started simply by writing speedaholic on the board and asking them what they thought it meant. They quickly figured out that it was somehow analogous to alcoholic. One student guessed it referred to cars – a car provides speed in the same way that a drink provides alcohol.

The suffix -(a)holic means “a person who has an addiction to or obsession with some object or activity”. When you think about, it really should be –ic, because alcoholic is alcohol+ic, but no-one would understand speedic etc. Continue reading