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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Earlier this week the main topic in the textbook was music. Among other questions, I asked the students if they played a musical instrument or sung. None does, but one said she learned piano as a child. I asked if they ever went to karaoke with friends. Perhaps surprisingly for young Asians, they said no. One student from Taiwan looked puzzled and asked ‘What is ‘carry-okey’? (echoing my pronunciation). I’m 99.99% sure they have karaoke in Taiwan, but it might be known by another name. I explained and he said ‘Oh, ka-ra-o-ke’, which I understand is closer to the Japanese pronunciation. (I currently have two Japanese students, but neither was in the room at the time.)

I have known for some time that the English pronunciation of karaoke is very different from the Japanese. Are we lazy? Are we disrespectful? Or, having adopted a foreign word, can we do with it whatever we like? Would it sound strange if we said ‘ka-ra-o-ke‘ instead of ‘carry-okey’? But clearly, in the opposite direction, the Japanese do whatever they like with their pronunciation of English loanwords. I have known for some time that karaoke means ‘empty orchestra’. It took me a long time to figure out that the kara of karaoke is the same morpheme as in karate (‘empty hand’). It took me even longer to figure out (in fact, I found out when I checked a dictionary before drafting this post) that oke is quite literally ‘orchestra’, which was adopted into Japanese at some earlier time and given a Japanised pronunciation and spelling.


I have written before about strings of words borrowed from (and through) English in Korean: Maxim mocha gold mild coffee mix. It happens in English, too. Walking to the venue for dinner with colleagues last night, I saw TRUMPS ALTO EGO HOMMES FEMMES COIFFURE SPA, which contains no native English words (that is, attested in English before 900). Some of them have become (more) ‘English’ while others remain less so.

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Biblical names in Korean

The church service I attend in Korea is entirely in Korean, but it is a prayer book Mass/Holy Communion service relevantly identical to those I’ve attended all my life in Australia. There are three Bible readings plus a Psalm. The readings and Psalm are listed in the weekly notes, and I can read in English as the reader is reading in Korean. Some books of the Bible are easier to find, and some are harder. All but two of the books of the New Testament are named after people, the exceptions being Acts and Revelation, but those are usually seasonal – Acts is read in the weeks following Easter, and Revelation in the last few weeks of ordinary time and during Advent.

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hear shop

I have seen two hairdressing salons called ‘[name’s] hear shop’. Korean has a perfectly good word for ‘hair’, but most hairdressing salons and haircare products use the English loanword 헤어 (he-eo). ‘hear’ would be 히어 (he-eo), which I haven’t seen, but 비어 (be-eo) is sometimes used for ‘beer’, alongside the Korean 맥주 (maek-ju).