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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prepositional phrases: order and attachment

Prepositional phrases often provide information about where or when, or about conceptual relationships. Two problems often arise: the order when multiple prepositional phrases are used together, and deciding which other element(s) in the sentence this/these prepositional phrase(s) modify/ies.

Regarding the first, a student wrote:

‘I with my friends went to a steak restaurant at my birthday in [country]’.

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death by overwork (no, not me)

From How your job is killing you by James Adonis in the Sydney Morning Herald (I try to avoid giving free publicity to companies, but I’ve got to credit my sources):

The Japanese have a word, karōshi, to describe people who work themselves to death. … In China the word used is guolaosi. … South Korea, too, has a term for this pervasive condition: gwarosa.

A little bit of linguistic knowledge shows that those are actually the same word, in the pronunciation systems of those three languages. Japanese and Korean have borrowed a large number of words directly from Chinese, and have also created new words themselves from Chinese characters.

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The textbook’s section on ‘future forms’ introduced [be] Ving, [be] going to V, will V and shall I/we V? Shall used to be used in statements, the traditional explanation being that I/we shall and you/she/he/it/they will showed a simple intention for the future, while the reverse – I/we will and you/she/it/they shall showed a strong intention. This distinction was probably not ever strictly observed, but throughout the 20th century the use of shall in statements declined. The last remaining holdout is the use of shall in questions of offer or suggestion. Even then, there are many contexts in which I would never use it. One example was (something like) ‘A: Let’s go to the cinema tonight. B: Sure. What shall we see?’. I said to the students that I would never say that, and I can’t imagine that anyone I know would. I would probably say ‘What do you want to see?’, even though that’s much longer and goes against my general principle of ‘keep it short and simple’.

I searched my diary for the two and half years of my first stay in Korea. I used shall twice, both in formulaic expressions. The first was about a night out with colleagues. I left early-ish because I had an early class the next morning, but ‘Most of my colleagues stayed and two (who shall remain nameless) and got falling-down drunk (literally).’ (Google Ngrams shows that shall remain nameless has always been more common than will remain nameless, and grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th century, against the general decline in shall.)  The second was ‘One of the level 4 students said that his dream vacation would be to Andromeda […] He said that a fortune teller had told him that he had previously lived there. i asked how he got to earth, and he said that he had “borrowed” a human body. All .. right … err, let’s stick to the planet earth, shall we?’. He then nominated Peru, which kind of makes sense; maybe the Nazca Lines were made by Andromedans.


When I was young, a special treat was a family meal at a Chinese restaurant in a neighboring town. I can’t remember whether chopsticks were available, but we certainly ate with a knife and fork and/or spoon. As time went by, more Australians began to use chopsticks. The first I can remember is my oldest sister’s then-boyfriend now-husband. Over the years I ate in a number of Asian restaurants, but always thought that chopsticks were too complicated.

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National Foundation Day

The story behind National Foundation Day is one of the strangest of any public holiday of any sovereign nation that I know. The most authoritative site I found is the Visit Korea website, which tells it like this:

“The Dangun legend is a mythical story that portrays the origin of the Korean people as descendants of bear, and the founding of Korea through Dangun. As legend has it, a tiger and bear prayed to Hwanung, the son of the Lord of heaven, to become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwanung gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort each, ordering them to eat only this sacred food and remain out of the sunlight for 100 days.

The tiger gave up after about twenty days and left the cave. However, the bear remained and was transformed into a woman. The bear-woman married Hwanung, and soon gave birth to a son, who was named Dangun Wanggeom. Dangun built the state of Gojoseon. Korea honors the day of establishing the first state through the national holiday of *Gaecheonjeol* (National Foundation Day) on October 3rd. On the first day of the lunar year, a group gathers for a memorial service for Dangun at a Chamseongdan Alter (stone structure known to be built by Dangun) located on holy mountains, including Manisan Mountain on Ganghwa Island and Taebaeksan Mountain in Gangwon-do.

Koreans accept and interpret the Dangun legend to be more than a mythical story. Just as the story of the Fall of Troy had been accepted by the world as a vague mythical story until remains were discovered, Koreans believe that the Dangun legend could be a trace of the foundation story of the first ancient kingdom on the Korean peninsula. Based on the Dangun legend, Korean historians date the origin of Korea’s legitimate history back to some 50,000 years ago.”

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