Verb it!

I’ve been struggling for ideas for posts, so I turned to the online discussions I had with my classmates during my masters study in 2010-12, which we were able to save as text files.

One involved the use of technology-related nouns and verbs. The discussion thread was Google it! As the name of a website, Google is a noun (and upper case), but people soon began using it as a verb and writing it in lower case. Many people decry the verbing of nouns and/or using registered company or product names as generics (see generic trademark) but both are common procedures in English. I can remember people faxing (though fax was never a proper noun, and was an abbreviation of facsimile (another common procedure in English – I don’t think anyone ever facsimilied (btw when was the last time you sent a fax?))), and references to people telexing (which was originally an upper-case proper noun). Before that, people telephoned, then ’phoned then phoned. All of these are transitive verbs: Google it, fax the document to me, fax it to me, fax me the document, ?/*fax me it, phone me, ?telephone me. (See also telegram, telegraph (including its metaphoric use) and wire.) (I can also remember an advertisement (?for a graphic designer) informing us that we could ‘fax or modem’ our requirements to them.)

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PROPER reading material

One of my frustrations in learning Korean has been (not) finding real or realistic material which takes me beyond textbooks. So I was excited to find ‘Korean Short Stories for Beginners’, promising ‘PROPER reading material’, ‘interesting reading material’ and ‘easy-to-read, compelling and fun stories’. For beginners.

After ordering and receiving the book and its Intermediate companion, I found that their idea of PROPER reading material for beginners is three pages of text per story, albeit at a readable size and divided into paragraphs. My wife (a native Korean speaker with a qualification in teaching Korean to speakers of other languages) gasped with astonishment when I showed her. A member of my church choir said “There a no pictures!”. My idea of PROPER reading material for beginners is three paragraphs of text per story, with at least one picture.

The book also contains vocabulary lists for each chapter, English translations paragraph-by-paragraph, a one-paragraph summary of each story and a comprehension quiz. But three pages of text! With no pictures! I can understand the occasional sentence in its entirety, and get the gist of about half the sentences. 

I wish I could recommend the books, but I can’t, which is why I haven’t identified the publisher (but search and probably find). Maybe if they marketed the first one as intermediate and the second as upper-intermediate and included pictures, I might.

On Sunday I caught a bus to the city centre and a train home. I took this book to fill in time. Just after I got on the train, two women sat behind me and started talking Korean. I quickly hid the book; I didn’t want them to start speaking to me in Korean.

Most advice for second language learners includes something like “Take every opportunity to practice actually using the language.” But I rarely do, which partly explains why my level remains so low. And I would be terrified if people started speaking to me in Korean.

Some years ago I was reading a Korean textbook on a train when a woman sat next to me speaking Korean on her phone. She finished the call and looked straight at my textbook, so I had to say something. It quickly became apparent that her English was better than my Korean, so we talked in Korean until she got off.

PS A few days later I took and read the intermediate book, and found the language much easier (except the stories are longer and there’s no complete English translation).


Yesterday, a colleague advised us that it was International Chocolate Cake Day. Another colleague shared an image of a chocolate cake with the text: 

I had this delicious omlette this morning. I seasoned the eggs with sugar, oil and chocolate, and threw in a little flour for texture. 

Ha ha.

A third colleague pointed out that there should be an e after the m

Inquiring linguistic minds want to know why omelette is right and omlette is wrong. 

Courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary, the story begins with Latin lamina (plate, layer) (with a variety of modern meanings) and lamella (small plate, layer) (also with a variety of modern meanings) and progresses through French la lemelle > l’alemelle > alemele > alemette (which is a double diminutive) > omelette to arrive in English. American English prefers omelet. Omlette and omlet exist but are rare, and at this stage are probably still mistakes rather than genuine alternatives. Pages for Mac autocorrects omlette and omlet to omelette and omelet. So omelette has the first e because Latin lamella had/has one.

For me, omelette is solidly two syllables, but gives the two- and three- syllable pronunciations.

Adaption and adoptation

A few days ago I hurriedly typed adaption rather than adaptation. Adaption isn’t wrong – it’s in multiple dictionaries and Pages for Mac accepts it – it’s just far less common than adaptation

Starting with adapt and adopt, there’s no particular reason why adaptation and adoption are standard, adaption is rare and adoptation is either very rare or wrong (Pages for Mac auto-corrects it to adaptation, then red-underlines it when I change it back.) Perhaps it’s related to the fact that opt by itself is a verb, whereas apt is an adjective. But that shouldn’t matter as long as adapt and adopt are both verbs.

Humans tend to want to say things as economically as possible. Adaptation and adoption are standard, so English speakers are more likely to shorten adaptation to adaption than to lengthen adoption to adoptation.

This got me thinking about the whole process of derivational suffixes in English. Humans will say longer word if there’s a change in meaning or word class. Adapt and adopt aren’t good examples, whereas act gives far more examples:

act (verb, noun) > active (adj) > activate (verb) > activation (noun)
act (verb, noun) > activity (noun) > do an activity (verb phrase) 
act (verb, noun) > action (noun) >  %action, %actionis/ze (verb) > %actionis/zation (noun) 
(among others)

Some people complain about or reject either or both of zero derivation (action as a verb) and overuse of –is/ze (actionis/ze) (partly because these are associated with business-speak), but these words fill a useful gap. Actioning or actionising a request or order isn’t the same as activating it, or even acting on it. The client makes or submits a request or order and the service worker ____s it. Google Ngrams suggests only receives, grants or refuses, which is not what we’re looking for. Fulfil is possible, but that means completing the action. Is the service worker the actioner? (Not auctioneer, which Pages for Mac just changed it to.)

See acclimate v acclimatise and direct for similar thoughts.


Sitting at the next table to us in a expensive restaurant in a major tourist area was a young person of Asian appearance wearing a t-shirt/sweatshirt/windcheater with the words NOY THE RIENT. 

This made no sense to me in any language I am familiar with. Later, I asked my Facebook friends, but none of their suggestions were convincing. I have encountered ’rents as slang for parents, and noy could similarly be annoy, which I haven’t encountered. If this is the meaning, then the next question is why a presumably Chinese clothing company would put it on its product. 

I’ll put a break here to give you time to think about it.

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Thank you Captain Obvious of the roads department for that insight into the physics of rocks. They actually do stop, once they reach the bottom of the cliff or the top of your car, whichever comes first.

I’m being silly, of course. The two signs said falling rocks (warning) and do not stop (advice/direction).

little o

The Greek letter omicron has been in the news recently, with the World Health Organization giving that letter to the latest variant of COVID-19 (skipping over nu and xi).

I had known for a very long time that Greek had two letter Os (omicron O o and omega Ω ω , corresponding approximately to the sounds in hop and hope), but it took me a long time to learn or figure out that they are literally little O (o + micron) and big O (o + mega) respectively. (Compare Korean ㅓ and ㅗ, the same idea and approximately the same sounds. (I don’t know if Koreans conceptualise ㅓ and ㅗ as being ‘closer’ than, say ㅏ and ㅜ.))

In other contexts, Little O is something mathematical, which I won’t attempt to explain, and Big O means something different to mathematicians, watchers of Japanese anime, writers and readers of erotica (no link, obvs) and fans of Roy Orbison. (Is there any overlap between those categories? Have two people ever had a seriously embarrassing conversation by assuming that the other meant something different?)

(See also the many uses of omicron and omega in the pages linked above.)

PS 10 Dec: Numberphile has a video about some mathematical usages of omicron, which I won’t pretend to understand. I noticed that he pronounced omicron with a short ‘o’ all the time, and omega with a long ‘o’ most of the time, but once or twice with a short ‘o’. I suspect that once Hindu/Arabic numerals came into use in Europe, omicron was less used because it could be mistake for zero. Notice that at 5.37 of the video, the paper they discuss is titled Big omicron and big omega and big theta. Big omicron is literally big little o, and big omega is big big o.


In a comment to a recent post, I mixed up the Korean words 색 (saek, colour) and 책 (chaek, book). Two words which I often mix up are 의사 (ui-sa, doctor) and 의자 (chair). Of course I can tell the difference between colours and books, and doctors and chairs in real life (but maybe a doctor is chairing a meeting!), but the words kind of look the same. In fact, the consonant letters of the Korean alphabet were designed to illustrate the connections between the sounds they represent. They are (with their most common transliterations):

ㅁ m ㅂ b ㅍ p

ㄴ n ㄷ d ㅌ t 

ㅇ ng ㄱ g ㅋ k

ㅅ s ㅈ j ㅊ ch ㅎ h 

(Annoyingly, Korean typewriter/computer keyboards don’t advantage of these patterns. My Korean typing is very slow.) (Compare the IPA chart.)

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Questions, questions!

Several months ago, while waiting for my morning coffee, I heard a woman nearby say on her phone 

Are you still in bed, are you?

It’s certainly clear, but it’s not a standard question structure. We can easily have

You’re still where
You’re still in bed?
Are you still in bed?
You’re still in bed, aren’t you?
You’re not/You aren’t still in bed, are you?

and possibly

You’re still in bed, are you?

but not 

You’re not/You aren’t still in bed, aren’t you?

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Behind every (great/successful) quotation is a mis-attribution

A Facebook friend shared the following:

Winston Churchill loved paraprosdokians, figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected.

1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it’s still on my list.
3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.
5. War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
6. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
7. They begin the evening news with ‘Good Evening,’ then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.
8. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
9. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out, I just wanted pay checks.
10. In filling out an application, where it says, ‘In case of emergency, notify:’ I put “DOCTOR.”
11. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
12. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street…with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.
13. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.
14. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.
15. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
16. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.
17. There’s a fine line between cuddling and…holding someone down so they can’t get away.
18. I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.
19. You’re never too old to learn something stupid.
20. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
21. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
22. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
23. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
24. I’m supposed to respect my elders, but now it’s getting harder and harder for me to find one.

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