mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen,  신사 숙녀 여러분

At the opening ceremony of the winter olympic games (video, article), announcements were made in French, English and Korean. French is a holdover from the pre-World War I origin of the IOC. The opening formulas in each language are mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen and  신사 숙녀 여러분 (shin-sa sung-nyeo yeo-reo bun, gentleman/men, lady/ies, all people) (thanks to my wife for the last one; it hasn’t cropped up in Korean for foreigners books, as we are unlikely to be giving formal speeches).

French and English puts the women first. Is this just courtesy to the “fairer sex”? I once read somewhere that the formula was originally ‘my lords, ladies and gentlemen’, addressing the men and women of the nobility and the men with knighthoods, but I can’t find anything about that now. And that doesn’t explain the French. Most French nobles had their heads or titles removed during the revolution. The wording “gentlemen and ladies” does exist, but is about one-tenth as common as “ladies and gentlemen”. Conversely, “boys and girls” is about four times as common as “girls and boys”. “Gentlewoman” is now obsolete. Continue reading

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Gogol Bordello

Maybe I shouldn’t look too closely at tattoos on people on trains.

Last night, just before my train got to my station, I moved towards the door, along with several others. The man in front of me had a large number of large tattoos. Looking in the general direction of the floor, I noticed that the one on one calf said ‘GOGOL BORDELLO’. I just couldn’t put those two words together. I know who Gogol was, and what a bordello is, but the two words together just didn’t make sense. Continue reading

What rhymes with axolotl?

Not a lotl, I would have thought.

A few days ago someone posted on Facebook The Axolotl Song (earworm warning), by a music/video/comedy group called Rathergood, which consists of Joel Veitch and unnamed others. They quickly rhyme axolotl with bottle and lotl, and also with mottled, which doesn’t quite rhyme.

There is a surprising number of English words ending with -tle. Morewords.com lists 104, but there are several derived forms; for example, bluebottle is listed alongside bottle. Eleven of these have a silent t in the cluster –stle, for example, castle. There are also a few with –ntle, for example, gentle, in which the n is part of the previous syllable, and one with –btle (subtle), in which the b is silent. The one which goes closest to rhyming with axolotl is apostle, but I can’t imagine anyone fitting both of those into the same song. Otherwise, there are bottle (and bluebottle), throttle, wattle and mottle among relatively common words and pottle (a former liquid measure equal to two quarts) (why not just say ‘two quarts’ or ‘half a gallon’?) and dottle (the plug of half-smoked tobacco in the bottom of a pipe after smoking) (does anyone really need a word for this?). Continue reading

Samsung, Chilsung, Subaru

Samsung is a South Korean company best known for mobile phones and other consumer electronics. Its name in Korean 삼성 (sam-seong), means “three stars”, but doesn’t refer to any three stars in particular. The Korean pronunciation is closer to /samsɒŋ/ (psalm song), but almost everyone in English-speaking countries pronounces it /sæmsʌŋ/ (Sam sung). In fact, I was prompted to write this by a video on photography in which the presenter pronounced it /sæmsʊŋ/ (closest to Sam should). Korean doesn’t have a close equivalent to English /ʊ/.

Chilsung is a very popular brand of lemonade (cider) made by the Lotte Corporation. Its name in Korean 칠성 (chil-seong) means “seven stars”, and refers to the Big Dipper. I haven’t heard enough foreigners pronounce to know how they pronounce it. Spelling both words with a u messes up foreigners’ conception of the vowel. Revised Romanisation transliterates it eo and McCune–Reischauer ŏ. u transliterates ㅜ (/u/) in both systems. Continue reading

You is all I want for Christmas

A few days before Christmas 2009 a colleague at the college arranged for all the students to join together and watch a video of the movie Love Actually.  Towards the end of the movie, the character Joanna (Olivia Olson) sings the song All I want for Christmas is you, which a) is not really about Christmas – it might as well be All I want for any occasion is you, b) I am likely to have in my head all day now, and c) you are likely to have in your head all day now.

After the movie, a student said to me “She was singing ‘Is you?’. Should that be ‘Are you?’?”. I said (I paraphrase) no, because she was singing about “All I want for Christmas”, not about “you”. “All I want for Christmas” is singular, even if “All I want for Christmas” is “five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and partridge in a pear tree”. The singularity or plurality of the gift(s) doesn’t affect the the form of the verb. On the other hand, if we invert the sentence and say “You _ all I want for Christmas”, then “you” determines the form of the verb.

Also late in the movie, the character Jamie (Colin Firth) travels to Portugal to make a declaration of love to Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz) … in very bad Portuguese. A student from Brazil was sitting in front of me (maybe he was the one who asked the question afterwards), and he cracked up completely during that scene. 

Singing in Korean

Sometime about the beginning of November, my wife arranged with the conductor of her church choir that I could join them to sing in a cantata on Christmas Day. (My church choir is singing at a very early service, and I just can’t get there in time.) I have been attending Sunday afternoon rehearsals for about six weeks, and learning the words by myself on the train. The music is straightforward enough, but the words are entirely in Korean. I’ve sung (actually performed) in other languages before; lots of Latin, some German and French, a sprinkling of Italian, Spanish and Welsh, one movement of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in Hebrew and all of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers in Russian. As far as I can remember, the words for the Bernstein were given in transliteration, but the words for the Rachmaninoff were in Cyrillic and transliteration. (Hebrew is written right-to-left, and would not naturally fit into in a musical score. I have seen a hymn in Arabic for Arabic-speaking Christians, and the whole score is reversed.)

Continue reading

Dawid

Hot on the heels of posting about variations of the name Francis yesterday, I discovered that a player in the England cricket team currently touring Australia is named Dawid Malan. Wikipedia lists 160 variations from 91 languages – more languages but fewer variations than Francis.

Dawid (pronounced DAH-vid in Malan’s case) is listed as Afrikaans (he was born in England to South African parents; his father has the same name), Polish and Swedish, and as a transliteration of Biblical Hebrew, Korean (though I would transliterate it Dawit), Syriac and Yiddish.

When my first boss in Korea took me to the immigration agency, he unhesitatingly wrote 데이비드 (de-i-bi-deu), so I use that spelling when I have to write my name in Korean (which is not often). Korean translations of the bible use 다윗 (da-wit); many biblical names in Korean are closer to the Hebrew original than to the English version.