For whom, Who … for?

My wife has said a noticeable number of times:  “What are you looking?”. I think this is inference from Korean, which uses the direct object marker 을/를 instead of a preposition. Maybe I just give a short answer, eg “My glasses”, or say “I am looking for my glasses”, or say “For.  I am looking for my glasses”, depending on how much like an English teacher I feel at the time.

In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus said to Mary Magdalene “For whom are you looking?”. This is not directly equivalent, because of the switch between what and who/whom. Google Ngrams shows that basically no-one says For what are you looking?

With who/whom, there are four choices: Who are you looking for?, Whom are you looking for?, For whom are you looking? and For who are you looking? Google Ngrams shows usage in that order. Despite the ‘rule’ that we shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, W/who are you looking for? has always been more common, and must be regarded as normal, standard English. I was surprised to find that Whom are you looking for? is more common than For whom are you looking?. The former sound very awkward to me. If I had to be formal, I would say/write For whom are you looking?

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Conspiracy theorems

I have written before about students choosing the wrong word from a dictionary or translator. Sometimes two words in their language correspond to one word in English, or one word corresponds to two.

The class was practicing ‘first conditional’. The first half of sentences were given, and the students had to write a suitable second half. One was “I’ll do the washing up if …”. The expected answer was “you cook”, but I can imagine a number of other answers which would be suitable (eg, “if you do it tomorrow”). One Korean student wrote “I theorem”. This is obviously wrong and he’d obviously chosen the wrong word from a dictionary or translator. But I wanted to find out what he’d meant, he showed me his translator and there were no other obvious words in sight, but I couldn’t guide him toward telling me anything else about this mysterious household activity. Another student from Korea was there, so I got them to talk about it briefly in Korean, but the other student couldn’t explain either.

When I got home I asked my wife about it, she said that 정리 (jeong-ni) can mean either ‘theorem’ or ‘tidy up’. Google Translate gives ‘theorem’ and ‘arrangement’, so 정리하다 means ‘arrange’. I thought about ‘theory’, which Google Translate gives as 이론, but my wife said “That’s a completely different word”. She couldn’t tell me what the difference was (explaining Korean words (her first language) in English (her second language)), but I’m not sure that I could explain the difference on the spot, either (explaining English words (my first language) and English (my first language).

I know that Pythagoras had a theorem and Darwin had a theory. Hercule Poirot might have a theory about whodunnit, but not a theorem.

Words from paradise

One of the choirs I sing in is rehearsing a work consisting of five movements each setting one word from the Bible. The words – holy, hallelujah, selah, hosanna and amen – are from Germanic, Hebrew, Greek and/or Latin, and are now different degrees of ‘English’.

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Afraid of what?

A few days ago the chapter of the textbook was about comparative and superlative adjectives, and one question was something like “What are you most afraid of?”. One student said “I am afraid of ” something that sounded like duck or dog. Was she afraid of ducks (the bird) or duck (the meat), or dogs (the animal) or dog (the meat, in some countries, see later)? I might have asked for clarification then, but decided to let her keep talking. She said that when she was young, the toilet was accessed from outside, so she always asked one of her parents to take her. So did they have ducks or dogs in their backyard? I finally said “I don’t know whether you said duck or dog”. She said “No – daakk”. Aha. “Afraid of the dark.” Why do we say “the dark” rather than “dark”. Would Dracula say “I am afraid of light” or “I am afraid of the light”? Google Ngrams shows that afraid of the light is about twice as common as afraid of light. Continue reading

O great mystery

One of the choirs I’m singing in is rehearsing the motet O magnum mysterium by Tomas Luis da Victoria.

The text is:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.

One more-or-less standard English translation is:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Every time I’ve sung it, I’ve been struck by how many of the Latin words have engendered English words. English is officially classified as a Germanic language, but many of its advanced words are derived from Latin. In fact, two of the words are Greek and two are Hebrew through Greek. Some words came into English via French rather than directly from Latin. Continue reading


My wife has a very good friend named Min-ja Lee (이민자). I was suprised to see her name on the front page of one of Sydney’s Korean-language community newspapers. Except it wasn’t. 이민자 (i-min-ja) is also the Korean word for immigration, and the story was about how the number of visa holders to coming to Australia has fallen in the wake of new regulations brought in by the Australian government recently.

I asked my wife about this, and she said that all Koreans are aware that this rather common name is a real Korean word. I am trying to think of a real English name which is a real English word. This Buzzfeed article (your sensitivity and sense of humour may vary) doesn’t provide any, and joke names like Amanda Hugginkiss aren’t ‘a’ word.

I previously knew the related Korean word 이민 (immigrant), which is often used to advertise migration services; they are immigrant agents rather than immigration agents. Although the surname 이 is pronounced Lee in English, it is pronounced ee in Korean, for reasons I’ve never been able to discover. Continue reading

498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …