How many?

I am researching places to go and things to do in South Korea. We’ve booked flights there at the end of Dec and back at the end of Jan. In fact, I ‘ve been researching since before the travel restrictions started. We were just about to book travel to South Korea and Europe. 

The N TERRACE restaurant at N Seoul Tower (Namsan Tower) is 

One of the few most romantic places in Korea!

Unlike one of the only places, which has its defenders but I find meaningless even as I understand what the person is trying to mean, one of the few most romantic places does make sense, mostly. There are romantic places in Korea. This is one of the romantic places in Korea. There are the most romantic places in Korea. This is one of the most romantic places in Korea. There are few most romantic places in Korea. This is one of the few most romantic places in Korea. (Compare One of the few romantic places in Korea!)

It makes sense, but it’s very awkward. We expect the most to be either one or few at most. Having many mosts defeats the purpose of them being most

A Google search shows one of the few most:

stable currencies, important ways, talented and complete musician [sic], natural sites, beautiful Islamic prayer quotes, prestigious museums

In most cases, either few or most would suffice, few if you want to imply a smaller number (one of the few stable currencies) and most if you don’t (one of the most important ways).

One of the few most important musician is plain wrong. Few must be followed by a plural noun. 


We have nothing to be scared of but scare itself

A document said that someone “was scared of people from outside” her immediate family. Unexceptional English, I would have thought, but Microsoft Word’s style checker noted “More concise language would be clearer for your reader” and suggested

feared people

To me, Someone feared people from outside her immediate family isn’t usual, natural English. It’s obviously grammatical and sensical but feared is too formal and strong for this context (unless the someone in question was bordering on phobic. Surprisingly, Google Ngrams shows that feared people is considerably more common than was scared of people and were scared of people combined. I can’t think of any context where feared people would be my usual, natural choice. I don’t have access to any linguistic corpora, so have to rely on a general Google search, which show occasional uses, mostly in the irrelevant forms “the (top/number) most feared people (in some context)”, “this is the moment we’ve feared, people” and “he feared [that] people would laugh at him”. There is one quotation from the Quran (“And you feared people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him”) but that by itself wouldn’t explain the ngrams results, especially because the use of feared people dates back to around 1800. I’m just going to have to admit defeat on this one. My editing job doesn’t involve changing other people’s words anyway, so I didn’t have to decide (and would have rejected the suggestion anyway).

(Comparing feared people and was/were scared of people is complicated by the fact that they are different grammatically. I am also considering feared people as adj + N but that doesn’t get me any further.)

My mind wandered sideways to the words which come after feared and was/were afraid/scared/frightened of. Ngrams’ results for those show, in order:

afraid of anything, afraid of death, afraid of something, feared God, afraid of nothing, scared of anything, scared of something, afraid of everything, afraid of ghosts, scared of heights, afraid of God, feared death, feared something, feared John, feared object, scared of death, feared man, frightened of life, scared of people, frightened of women, frightened of ghosts, frightened of something, frightened of nothing, afraid of work, scared of nothing, scared of everything, scared of snakes, scared of ghosts, frightened of everything, afraid of men, scared of dogs, frightened of change, feared none, frightened of anything, frightened of people, frightened of death, feared Mr, afraid of war, feared anything.

Note that scared of people and frightened of people appear on that list, but feared people doesn’t, calling into question the first search results (and Microsoft’s advice). Obviously, that list would take some analysis to make any sense of. Leaving aside everything, anything, something and nothing, we have death, God, ghosts, heights, John (Mark 6:20 “Herod feared John”), life, women, snakes, men (more people are (or write about being) frightened of women than afraid of men), change, Mr (mostly “feared [that] Mr X would do something”) and war

So, more questions than answers in this post, sorry.

Like a ton of bricks

I overheard a colleague tell a second colleague that a third colleague had told the first colleague that the third colleague was going to do something otherwise than by standard procedures. The first colleague then said:

If he does that, I’ll jump on him like a ton of bricks.

My first thought was that bricks don’t jump, even a ton of them. 

At home I first searched for jump ton bricks (without quotation marks), which found no exact uses of the expression in any form, but, not surprisingly, dictionary entries and uses of be/come (down) on sb like a ton of bricks, hit sb like a ton of bricks and jump down sb’s throat. Searching again for “jump on him like a ton of bricks” (with quotation marks for an exact match) found a small number of exact uses, as did most combinations with jumped, me, you, herit, us, them, someone and somebody. I was surprised to find that some people even jump on it like a ton of bricks. 

So I’ll say that jump on sb like a ton of bricks is used, just not very much. Pre-internet, would there have been any way of finding those? 

(Would anyone say “The wall came down on him like a ton of bricks”, or is that too literal?) 

“salad mice”

I happened on the Youtube channel of a young American couple apparently living and working in South Korea and touring occasionally. The auto-subtitles were on, and one video included the phrase

salad mice 

Because I could see their video and hear them speaking, I knew what they were talking about, but I’ll leave it with you with no context.

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In my dreams

Two recent dreams have involved language. I don’t usually remember my dreams in much detail but these were short and involved language. Two days ago Facebook informed me that it was the birthday of one former student who returned to Hungary. I wished him happy birthday in English and he replied in English. That night I dreamed I was in a classroom. The first student greeted me in Korean, which I speak to some extent. The second student greeted me in Hungarian. Hang on … I don’t speak Hungarian, so how did this person in my dream speak it, and how did I know that it was Hungarian? Either I have absorbed some Hungarian, somewhere, some time, somehow, or my subconscious just made up something which sounded approximately appropriate and I just knew it was meant to be Hungarian.

Longer ago I had a dream in the thriller genre. The only part I remember is one person pointing a gun at another person, and the other person saying:

Do not shoot.

Do not shoot and Don’t shoot mean the same thing, but contracted forms are less formal and, in this case, more urgent. I can’t imagine anyone facing the business end of a gun saying Do not shoot instead of Don’t shoot, but that’s what my subconscious made that person say. Do not shoot (until, unless …) is more like something said or written in a firearms safety course, or said by a police/military commander. Google Ngrams doesn’t help, processing do not and don’t in the same way. A general Google search shows about 15 million results for “don’t shoot” (in quotation marks for exact match) and 2.5 million for “do not shoot”. 

I don’t (or do not) know what conclusions I can draw from these dreams.

I kept an extensive diary during my first stay in Korea 2006-09, which often throws light on my own usage. There are 6 instances of do not and 200 of don’t, including 58 of I don’t know, so I obviously spent most of that time in a state of considerable ignorance.

It was cake

I recently discovered the blog Peaks and penguins, by a young Canadian/US couple who lived in South Korea for some years (and maybe still do). They chronicled their explorations of the mountains there, guided by the lists of 100 top mountains by the Korean Forest Service and a commercial hiking wear/gear manufacturer. (80 mountains appear on both lists and 20 are unique to each, so there’s 120 in total, which I think they explored all.) I am half disappointed that I spent so much of the time I was in Korea not exploring mountains and a quarter excited and a quarter daunted that there’s so much for me to do when I go there again (when, when, when?). And that’s just the mountains, not all the other things to do.

One of their early expeditions nearly ended badly: the weather changed, they were short on warm clothing and other provisions, and they lost their way. Fortunately they encountered a Korean hiking group who warmed them up and pointed them in the right direction. They wrote: 

Our descent was cake compared to our trials on the ridge.

Was cake, not was a piece of cake, which is an established idiom.

I haven’t been able to find any equivalent use of “was cake” (in quotation marks for exact match). There are sentences like When was cake first made?, We heard/were told there was cake and And then there was cake. But I can’t say that those bloggers are wrong; it’s very clear what they mean and is a natural shortening (<haha) of the idiom. Maybe people say it or write it in places Google can’t find.

According to Google Ngrams, is/was a piece of cake rose in usage in the mid-1970s. Without context, it’s impossible to tell how many occurrences before and after then were literal usages of the phrase, and how many were idiomatic. I had always assumed that it is/was a piece of cake was, in turn, a shortening of it is/was as easy as eating a piece of cake, but Ngrams shows no particular usage of as easy as eating.

Is/was a piece of cake seems to be used/usable in singular forms: My homework was a piece of cake, ?My exams were pieces of cake, My exams were a piece of cake

khaleesi virus

I recently encountered the name




which has been circulating for about 10 years, but


In terms of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and the Game of Thrones tv series, the only correct spelling is khaleesi. I suspect that the name has now been adopted by people who have only ever heard it in passing. Not everyone has read all the novels so far (twice!) and/or watched the entire series. There’s nothing unusual about different spellings of a name existing side by side. What’s more unusual is that a name has a definite origin and an official spelling. 

I also suspect that the drift is/will be from kh to k and maybe we’ll even see Caleesi in the near future. Using k instead of c and kh instead of k is a deliberate choice, which I am middle-aged-ish and grumpy-ish enough to thoroughly dislike. 

After season 8 of Game of Thrones, the parents of all the Khaleesis and Daeneryses might be regretting their choice, or maybe they’ll pretend that season 8 just didn’t happen. 

I also suspect that Daenerys is going to get alternative spellings. I spelled it wrongly the first time. Most people on discussion forums refer to her as Dany, to avoid the problem. Arya might end up as Aria, which existed already anyway.

For what it’s worth, there are about 1.2 million search results for “kaleesi” (in quotation marks), with the question ‘Did you mean “khaleesi”’ and about 8.4 million for “khaleesi”. But then again, khaleesi virus comes up as one of the suggestions.

Note that female names tend to be adopted more than male names: there are probably no Khals or Drogos out there.


I woke up in the middle of the night with the “word”


in my head.

I have sometimes got up in the middle of night to do linguistic research, but on this occasion I was determined to go do back to sleep as soon as possible. A few obvious preliminary questions: is this actually a word? if so, what does it mean and where did I encounter it? if not, why did my brain think of that combination of letters rather than any others?

If it is a word, it’s not a standard English word, because all the standard English words starting with pn– are technical and relate to air or breathing, and most of the standard English words ending with –au are French (with a few German and Welsh). 

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A document referred to someone applying for an Australian carer visa in order to care for a relative who was referred to by name and as the sponsor, the Australian relative requiring care and 

the caree

Caree, as the reciprocal of carer, makes sense and uses an established pattern of English words, and it it is difficult to think of any other suitable word, but it looks and sounds very strange, and is very, very rare. Google first asked me if I meant carer, then career, and Pages for Mac changed it to career (even though that doesn’t make sense in any likely context). 

One of the few official sources in which I found it used is the Australian government’s Social Security Guide (which was not the provision in question in the document I was editing). It simply says that a caree is “a person receiving a substantial level of care” and a carer or care provider is “a person who is providing a substantial level of care to a caree”.

Not surprisingly, Google Ngrams shows that the usage of caree is minimal. Surprisingly, it shows that carer has been widely used only since the late 1970s. I don’t know what people providing care were called before that. 

I can’t recommend or not recommend caree. I doubt if any writers of government guides are going to check my blog before they use it.

Extraordinarily unique

Wikipedia’s article on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan quotes “US officials” describing it as “extraordinarily unique”.

Some style guides advise or prescribe against any modification of unique. Either something is the only one of its kind, or it’s not. It can’t be (for example) very unique. While modifying unique is probably best avoided in formal contexts, there can be no doubt that many people say or write it informally and normally. Google Ngram Viewer shows not (by far the most common), very, as, most, so, quite, rather, somewhat, almost and probably unique. Some of these are (probably) more acceptable, and others less so. 

Extraordinarily unique isn’t on Ngrams’ top 10 results (its usage is about one-tenth that of probably unique), but a general Google search shows about 391,000 results, starting with blind auditions on The Voice, the Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Villa Bismarck on Capri.  

It might just be possible to describe something as extraordinarily unique if it’s extraordinary as well as unique – a whole level more unique than anything else. Australia has many unique animals, but the platypus is extraordinary. Anyone familiar with jerboas will accept the kangaroo, but when the first samples of dead platypuses (?platypi, ??platypodes) arrived in England, the experts there thought someone here was playing a practical joke on them. But “except for its size and exaggerated security measures,” Bin Laden’s compound “itself did not stand out architecturally from others in the neighbourhood.”