My house (1) has a bath and shower and I (2) have a bath or shower every day. I (3) have to have a bath or shower every day. My previous apartment also (4) had a bath and shower and I (5) had a bath or shower every day. I (6) had to have a bath or shower every day. This was a good thing because my first apartment (7) had had only a shower and I (8) had had a shower every day. I (9) had had to have a shower every day.

Most of that is made up to illustrate a grammar point, namely the various uses of the verb have as an auxiliary verb, a main verb, a catenative verb and an ‘extra verb’.

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Ugly congratulations

Yesterday my wife posted birthday greetings in English on Facebook. One of her friends wrote something in Korean which Facebook automatically translated as ‘Ugly [smiley face]’. ‘Congratulations’ in Korean is 축하해요 (chuk-ha-hae-yo) normally and 축하합니다 (chuk-ha-ham-ni-da) formally. The verb ‘[subject] am/is/are ugly’ is 추해요. An unaspirated stop like ㄱ followed by a ㅎ is always pronounced as the corresponding aspirated stop, in this case ㅋ, so 축하해요 is pronounced 추카해요, which is what the friend actually wrote. Facebook’s translator (and Google Translate when I experimented) interpreted 추 as the verb stem of ‘ugly’ and ignored the 카, which is meaningless if 추 is interpreted as ‘ugly’. It also ignored the verb conjugation.

PS I asked my wife about this. She said that people sometimes write 추카해요 in text messages or social media posts, but 축하해요 is definitely the correct spelling, and people would never write 추카해요 in any formal context.

C’mon, it’s only 16 years ago!

Oh now I feel old! The topic in the textbook was science, and as a filler I showed the students some science-related movie trailers, starting with the ‘based on a true story’ movies Hidden figures, The theory of everything and The right stuff. Then I showed some science fiction, starting with 2001: A space odyssey. I said ‘How many of you remember 2001’? I was expecting a few hands. I don’t know how old my students are, but I would guess late 20s or even early 30s for some of them. (Others are much younger, possibly late teens or early 20s.) No-one (but me) remembers 2001???? At least they could have said ‘Oh, that was the year I started school’ (as indeed one of my nieces said when I posted on Facebook about this later.)

Then I showed them Back to the future 1 & 2, and 1989’s imagining of 2015 made much more sense to them than 1968’s imagining of 2001. (In general, BttF got more right than 2001.) Along the way I found 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Right, 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Wrong and a parody by CollegeHumor made in 2015 with the benefit of nowsight. I also tried to find the American talk/comedy show which snared Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd as guests on 21 October 2015, but I couldn’t find it and couldn’t remember whose show it was on. A Facebook friend later told me it was Jimmy Kimmel.

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Merry birthday

I have a friend who habitually writes ‘merry birthday’ on our mutual friends’ Facebook pages (and mine, when it comes around). There’s nothing grammatically or semantically wrong with ‘merry birthday’, but it just sounds so weird. An internet search returns approx 353,000,000 results for ‘happy birthday’ and 2,650,000 for ‘merry birthday’, so it’s by no means unknown, but used less than one percent as much as ‘happy birthday’. Some of those are references to people whose birthday falls near Christmas. (I know two people born on Christmas Day. One is named Christa. I also know a father and daughter born on leap day.)

Google Ngrams shows many results for ‘happy birthday’ and ‘merry Christmas’ (of course). ‘Happy Christmas’ is used about 1/6th as much as ‘merry Christmas’ but ‘merry birthday’ yields only one result.

In the course of my research, I found this short extract (from a movie I watched more than 20 years ago, but didn’t remember this scene). The Wikipedia page for the movie says that the song was written for this movie ‘to avoid potential licensing issues’ (ie paying royalties to Warner/Chappell, at the time – for more information, see here).

(For thoughts about the song in Korean, see here.)

(PS after I posted this, the friend wished me a ‘happy birthday’ this year.)


Marching together

In 2000, the chamber choir I sang in and one other similar choir were invited by Sydney’s biggest concert choir to join it to form the choir for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. We got the best deal of any of the performers – we got to see the whole ceremony from high up in stands. (We sang one verse of the national anthem and an excerpt from the Te Deum by Berlioz during the entry of the flame and the lighting of the cauldron. RIP Betty Cuthbert (d 6 August 2017).)

There were two rehearsals – a closed one, with some stops and starts, the previous Saturday, and an open one, essentially continuous, on the Wednesday. The entry of the flame and the lighting of the cauldron were omitted, and the parade of nations was represented by the placard and flags bearers only.

On both occasions I noticed that South and North Korea were missing from the parade. They weren’t filed under ‘K’ or ‘N’ and ‘S’. (This was six years before I went to South Korea, but I have always been interested in the countries of the world.) There was an announcement for ‘Individual Olympic Athletes’ immediately before Australia (the host country always enters last) and I vaguely thought the Koreans would be marching there.

On the night of the ceremony (15 September 2000), after Kenya had entered, I noticed a lot of people standing at the entrance who obviously weren’t Kuwaiti. (Kosovo now also comes in between.) The announcements were given in French first, then English. There was a long announcement in French, and the digital screen was filled with writing. My French was just good enough to get the gist, but I wasn’t sure until the announcement in English came:

The delegations of the Korean Olympic Committee and the Olympic Committee of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, marching together as Korea.


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My wife has three birthdays. Although the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Korea in 1896, people continued to use the traditional Korean lunar calendar for everyday purposes. So, her family marked her birthday as 196>년 6월 28일 (using the Gregorian year but the traditional month and day). But her grandfather or father didn’t register her birthday, or indeed the birthdays of any of her older sisters, until her first younger brother was born, and then he managed to get two of those dates wrong. Her oldest and third sisters, and her older younger brother, have the correct date, but her second sister has the wrong year and she has the wrong year and day. Her youngest brother, who was registered separately after he was born, has the the wrong month and day.

She said that this happened all the time in those days, and many people have official dates of birth one to three years away from their real one. It is possible to apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages or a court to have one’s official date of birth changed, but with the cost and effort, very few people bother. So, her official date of birth is one year earlier, on another day in June (but her lunar calendar birthday never falls in June anyway).

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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.