24 years old v 24 years older

Last night my wife pointed to a Youtube video about the new president of France, Emmanuel Macron, and asked ‘Did you know he married a woman 24 years old?’. I’d read headlines about ‘an older woman’, so ’24 years old’ didn’t sound right, but ’24 years older‘ didn’t sound much righter. Except she is. My wife really did know that Brigette Macron is ‘older’ and really did mean to say ‘older’, but either her pronunciation failed at the last syllable or I wasn’t paying attention.

It is perhaps more likely that a 39-year-old man would marry a woman 24 years old than a woman 24 years older. Thinking about it, I was grateful that she isn’t, for example, 15 years older than him. ‘Did you know he married a woman 15 years old?’ really doesn’t sound right.

Some time ago, she was reading about a host/judge on a cooking competition program here in Australia. She said ‘His wife is 19 years old!’ (he was then in his 40s). This is possible, but I wanted to check. The article said ‘his wife of 19 years’. (I remember, many, many years ago, being confused about this phrasing as well. It that case, it was something like ‘his wife of 13 years’.)

lookout v look out, wildlife v wild life

We drove to a small town in the Blue Mountains famous for its autumn leaves. On the way, I saw a sign which might have said:




which makes sense in the Blue Mountains. The second one definitely said:




Just as we were leaving the small town, I saw a sign saying:


I guess to those living in a quiet mountain town, everything else seems wild.

time and place

Almost every English sentence has a ‘time’ and a ‘place’, which are sometimes explicitly stated and sometimes only implied. One question in the textbook was (something like) ‘I ___ (work) at 7 o’clock this evening. I work till 8 on Thursdays.’ The first question to be mentally answered is ‘What day is it today-in-this-sentence?’. Some students said ‘Wednesday’ (because it really was), but my interpretation is that ‘today-in-this-sentence’ is Thursday, because if it was any other day, then the information about Thursday would violate Grice’s maxim of relevance. If it is Thursday, then the answer is ‘I will be working at 7 o’clock’. If it is any other day, then it’s ‘I won’t be working’ (but textbooks and tests usually supply ‘not’ if a negative statement is needed).

Another question was ‘You can’t / may have seen Gary here yesterday. He took the day off.’ The question is ‘Where is “here”?. If ‘here’ is ‘the office’, then you can’t have seen him here yesterday. If ‘here’ is ‘his favourite pub’, then you may have. (Or you might have.)

I live, therefore I buy

A few months ago I downloaded a mobile phone app for studying Korean. The app shows a sentence, question or phrase in Korean, with the option of hearing it. (I generally use this on the train, which means I turn the sound down.) The user mentally or audibly translates it into English, then clicks ‘Show answer’. After checking the answer and any notes the app programmer has provided the user then can then select a period of time after which the sentence will re-appear.

Last night I read the question 어디에서 삽니까? (eo-di-e-seo sam-ni-kka?). 사 is most immediately the root of the verb 사다 (sa–da, to buy), making 어디에서 삽니까? the formal polite question ‘Where do you buy (it)?’ (The ㅂ is part of the verb inflection.) But the answer given was ‘Where do you live?’. ‘Live’ is 살다 (sal-da). Most inflections of 사다 and 살다  are distinct. For example, the standard polite statement form of 사다 is 사요 (sa-yo, I buy) and that of 살다 is 살아요 (sal-a-yo > sa-la-yo, I live). Just occasionally, though, the ㄹ of  살다 disappears, leaving 사. One of these circumstances is when it is followed by ㅂ (usually /b/ but in this case /m/ because is it followed by ㄴ /n/). This is approximately analogous to the silent ‘l’ in ‘calm’ etc. In English, the sound disappears but the spelling remains. In Korean, the sound and the spelling both disappear.

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not that there’s anything wrong with that

It is an ending-in-5 number of years since I started university. (For some reason, ending-in-0 and ending-in-5 anniversaries seem to be more significant.) I don’t remember the exact date, but the 1st of March is an arbitrary day to commemorate it. The first week was/still is Orientation Week (or O-Week). Among other activities, the student societies set up booths on the main lawn and students can inquire and join. As I wandered around, I bumped into a friend from a nearby city who I knew from regional music camps. One of the booths we saw was that of the Gay and Lesbian Society. Its banner read ‘Are you hung up about being gay?’. I said to my friend, ‘I’m not hung up about being gay!’, which is true but ambiguous. I found out several years later that he’d taken the meaning ‘I’m gay but I’m not hung up about it’, rather than my actual meaning of ‘I’m not gay so I’m not hung up about it’. Fortunately he hadn’t said or done anything homophobic in the meantime. I was/am, in fact, about as straight as it is possible to be.

All these years later, with a qualification in linguistics, I still can’t figure out just where the ambiguity arises. Either I am gay or not. Either I am hung up about it or not. Whatever else I am hung up about, I’m not hung up about being gay. (By the way, I’m not sure what students who were gay and not hung up about it were meant to do.)

Musical terrorism

The famous anthem Sing Joyfully, by William Byrd (c1540-1623), sets four verses of Psalm 81, one of which starts ‘Blow the trumpet in the new moon’. The lesser-known setting by Adrian Batten (c1591-c1637), which we sang yesterday morning, uses a different translation, and that verse starts ‘Blow up the trumpet in the new moon’. That sounds excessive, even for a brass instrument.