여러분 추석 잘 보내세요!

Our original plan was to travel to Korea for Chuseok then continue to Europe. That got knocked on the head by the coronavirus, so I’ve been watching large amounts of travel videos recently. I’ve noticed that pronunciation of Korean place names by foreign tourists falls into three categories: generally pretty good, generally pretty bad and non-existent. One vlogger resorted to Google Translate for all his pronunciations of Korean. Others have been way off the mark – I won’t attempt to render another vlogger’s pronunciation of makgeolli and Haeundae. Korean pronunciation is generally not difficult. Most of the sounds of Korean are close enough to sounds of English to be able to fake it. You should be able to learn the basics of Korean pronunciation on your flight there (when you are able to fly there). That said, major tourist destinations in Seoul include Gwanghwamun, Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung and Cheonggyecheon, which are not immediately obvious. If it helps, divide them into syllables: Gwang-hwa-mun, Gyeong-bok-gung, Chang-gyeong-gung and Cheong-gye-cheon (and/or learn hangeul).

I remember struggling with Gyeongbokgung, having no idea about Yeouido, and overemphasising JEONju and GYEONGju. (On the other hand, SOju and MAEKju were pretty easy!)


A Korean friend posted photos and a description of a traditional ceremony he hosted. The auto-translation referred to it half the time as a ‘car ceremony’ and the other half as a ‘tea ceremony’. It is, of course, the latter. Most Korean as a second language textbooks give 차 as an example of a word with two distinct meanings: car (also 자동차 – automatic car or automobile) and tea. The Korean words represent two different Chinese characters, which are possible pronounced with two different tones in Chinese (Korean isn’t a tonal language). 

The Chinese character 茶 had/has several pronunciations in different parts of China. The countries which traded with northern China picked up the pronunciation chá (for example, Italian chai) and those which traded with south-eastern China picked up ta or te (for example, English, and French thé). Almost every language uses a variation of one of those two pronunciations. 

It is usually easy to tell the difference. Ubiquitous in South Korea are signs saying 주차금지 (ju-cha-geum-ji), which means ‘no parking’ (which Koreans usually ignore anyway), not ‘no drinking jujube tea’.

In fact, Google Translate has just informed me that the Korean word for difference is 차, so you need to know the 차 between 차 and 차. (Or you just go ahead and cha-cha-cha!)

(As far as I know, 차 was originally used for hand or horse carts before being applied to motor vehicles, similarly to English chariot, carriage, cart and car. For a while, people spoke and wrote about motorised carriages, which became motor cars, which became motors (in a few varieties) and cars (standardly). The English and Korean words are otherwise unrelated.)

Just following instructions

The instructions on a packet of sachets of oats and added things for breakfast cereal say to pour the contents into my favourite bowl. I don’t have a favourite bowl. We several each of two different designs of bowls, and I take whichever is on the top of the pile. I doubt if anyone in the design department ever thought “So what happens if someone doesn’t have a favourite bowl, or deliberately or accidentally uses a non-favourite bowl?”. I felt mildly rebellious using a non-favourite bowl.

How much do the scales weigh?

My wife just bought bathroom scales. The box says that they weigh up to 182kg. Clearly they don’t, because I can lift, hold and carry them easily. I estimate that they weigh less than a kilogram.

I’m being silly, of course, between different meanings of weigh. The scales weigh me, I weigh myself and I weigh ??kg.

I was caught between saying How much do the scales weigh? and How much does the scale weigh? In the olden days, scales definitely came in pairs, and I would normally have said scales here, except these (?this) is battery operated with a digital readout and somehow seems less plural. In fact my wife bought two scales, one for us and one for our niece. I tried weighing one scale(s) on the other(s) but it didn’t work, so I can’t give you an exact weight.


One of my sisters texted that her husband had been offered a new job in his preferred area of sales. A few days later, she texted that “another rep had been hired”. I had to check “as well as, or instead of”. Fortunately, it was “as well as”. 

There are two sets of ambiguity about another. One is “as well as” v “instead of” and the other is “of the same kind” v “of a different kind”. These sometimes overlap. If you’re halfway through eating your pizza when I arrive, and offer me the other half, I might say “No thanks, I want another pizza”, I probably mean “of a different kind”/“instead of” (and might also mean a whole nother pizza*). Indeed I might say “I want a different pizza”. But if I’ve already eaten one pizza and say “I want another pizza”, I could mean “of the same kind” or “of a different kind”, but it has to be “as well”, because I’ve already eaten the first one. Note that if my brother-in-law had already started his new job, the ambiguity in my sister’s text would have disappeared; hiring another rep can only mean “as well”. My brother-in-law was caught in ambiguity time.

I have a random memory from many years ago, involving the same sister. One summer holiday we were staying at the house of a family we knew, as they were at their holiday house. On the Sunday morning we were sitting in the car waiting to go to church when that sister suddenly got out and said “I’m going to put another dress on”. Our father said “Won’t you be too hot wearing two dresses?”, which is such a dad thing to say.

* This is not my natural usage, but I couldn’t resist. And it’s older than you probably think.

Edison Denisov

I chanced on a reference to a Russian composer named Edison Denisov, about whom I know nothing other than his name, which is … almost an anagram. In fact, his middle name (patronymic) is Vasilievich, so Edison V Denisov is an anagram. (Vasili Denisov was a scientist.) As far I understand Cyrillic, it doesn’t work in Russian: the Э of his first name and the е of his second are different letters – Эдисо́н В Дени́сов. (The acute accent on a different letter in each name serves to mark stress, and doesn’t make a different letter.)

I must listen to some of his music sometime.

chew/eat the carpet

A discussion on Language Log considered the expression chew/eat the carpet. One definition is, in the words of Oxford Reference, “to lose emotional control, to suffer a temper tantrum”. 

I got thinking about temper tantrum. I would say, simply, tantrum. Temper tantrum has always sounded redundant to me. What other kinds of tantra are there? It also sounds vaguely American. 

Google Ngrams shows that a tantrum is used about 2 to 6 times as often as a temper tantrum in British English, and about 2 to 3 times as often in American English. In other words, a tantrum is the number one choice, but a temper tantrum is a strong alternative, especially in American English. 

It also shows that temper tantrum sprang into being in 1916, and then increased in use in 1923. I can’t find any reason for this. A discussion on English Language and Usage Stack Exchange cites a psychiatric case at Johns Hopkins University in 1918, where it is rendered in scare quotes, which suggests it was new and unusual then. (That discussion is more about the word tantrum (origin unknown) than it is about the expression temper tantrum.)

The other kinds of noun tantra are toddler, morning and childhood ones, all of which have a minuscule usage compared with temper tantrum. (I’m being silly in using tantra as the plural of tantrum. Whatever its origin, it’s not Latin, so the plural is tantrums.)


A document referred to someone engaging in what would colloquially be called a one-night stand. I had to write a formal summary of the legal issues in the document. So do I write ‘one-night stand’ or … what? What is the formal way to say one-night stand? I started with “one-time extra-marital sexual …” then couldn’t think of the next word – encounter, incident, intercourse? My team leader suggested “short-term extra-marital sexual relationship”, but I had problems with both short-term and relationship. Short-term surely implies something longer than one act of sexual intercourse (minutes to hours). A short-term relationship is surely days or weeks or maybe months. Again, a relationship surely implies more than one act. A one-night stand may be sexual relations, but it isn’t a sexual relationship. But then Dictionary.com defines relationship first as “a connection, association, or involvement” (which would include one act of sexual intercourse) and fourth as “a sexual involvement; affair”. An affair, in turn, is “an intense amorous relationship, usually of short duration”. But it would be hard to call a one-night stand an affair. 

Intercourse started as a perfectly ordinary word meaning “communication or dealings between individuals or groups”. I encountered it several times in the writings of members of the First Fleet who arrived in the new colony of New South Wales in January 1788, and actually used it in the title of my term paper and throughout the paper. The British had intercourse with the natives, and also with the sailors on two French ships which arrived in Botany Bay a few days later.

Some time ago I was a party, and we somehow got to using the older sense of intercourse as often as we could, saying how much we enjoyed intercourse with each other and how we should do it more often. We reduced one member of the group to fits of giggles every time we used it.


The legal writing guide of a mid-level university states “Do not use contractions in your academic writing, Using contractions can give your writing an informal or colloquial tone, which is not appropriate.”  Unfortunately, one of its examples, alongside can’t, shan’t (who writes shan’t anyway?), they’re, wouldn’t and it’s, is o’clock, which is a contraction of of the clock. So don’t use o’clock in your academic writing; use of the clock instead.

That said, contractions are generally avoided in academic writing, but some contractions are now standard. Google Ngram shows that o’clock is about 200 times as common as of the clock. I suspect that no-one actually uses of the clock; they just mention it in the course of talking about the origin of o’clock.

Talking about contractions, the conductor of one of the choirs I sing in told us that the soprano soloist for a recent concert has just had a baby … after 62 hours of labour.