A Korean friend posted photos and a description of a traditional ceremony he hosted. The auto-translation referred to it half the time as a ‘car ceremony’ and the other half as a ‘tea ceremony’. It is, of course, the latter. Most Korean as a second language textbooks give 차 as an example of a word with two distinct meanings: car (also 자동차 – automatic car or automobile) and tea. The Korean words represent two different Chinese characters, which are possibly pronounced with two different tones in Chinese (Korean isn’t a tonal language).
The Chinese character 茶 had/has several pronunciations in different parts of China. The countries which traded with northern China picked up the pronunciation chá (for example, Indian chai) and those which traded with south-eastern China picked up ta or te (for example, English, and French thé). Almost every language uses a variation of one of those two pronunciations.
It is usually easy to tell the difference. Ubiquitous in South Korea are signs saying 주차금지 (ju-cha-geum-ji), which means ‘no parking’ (which Koreans usually ignore anyway), not ‘no drinking jujube tea’.
In fact, Google Translate has just informed me that the Korean word for difference is also 차, so you need to know the 차 between 차 and 차. (Or you just go ahead and cha-cha-cha!)
(As far as I know, 차 was originally used for hand or horse carts before being applied to motor vehicles, similarly to English chariot, carriage, cart and car. For a while, people spoke and wrote about motorised carriages, which became motor cars, which became motors (in a few varieties) and cars (standardly). The English and Korean words are otherwise unrelated.)
PS 19 Oct 2021 – I stumbled across a reference to the series Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. The trailer includes a play on ‘car’ and ‘tea’. My wife confirmed that 차 있어요? is ambiguous without context in Korean.
Some years ago, before the internet, there circulated by various means an “English-as-she-is-spoke” synopsis of the opera Carmen, purporting to have come from an opera house in Italy. One version now on the internet runs:
Act 1. Carmen is a cigar-makeress from a tabago factory who loves with Don Jose of the mounting guard. Carmen takes a flower from her corsets and lances it to Don Jose (Duet: ‘Talk me of my mother’). There is a noise inside the tabago factory and the revolting cigar-makeresses burst into the stage. Carmen is arrested and Don Jose is ordered to mounting guard her but Carmen subduces him and he lets her escape.
Act 2. The Tavern. Carmen, Frasquito, Mercedes, Zuniga, Morales. Carmen’s aria (‘The sistrums are tinkling’). Enter Escamillio, a balls-fighter. Enter two smuglers (Duet: ‘We have in mind a business’) but Carmen refuses to penetrate because Don Jose has liberated her from prison. He just now arrives (Aria: ‘Stop, here who comes!’) but hear are the bugles singing his retreat. Don Jose will leave and draws his sword. Called by Carmen shrieks the two smuglers interfere with her but Don Jose is bound to dessert, he will follow into them (final chorus: ‘Opening sky wandering life’).
Act 3. A roky landscape, the smuglers shelter. Carmen sees her death in cards and Don Jose makes a date with Carmen for the next balls fight.
Act 4. A place in Seville. Procession of balls-fighters, the roaring of the balls is heard in the arena. Escamillio enters (Aria and chorus: ‘Toreador, toreador, all hail the balls of a Toreador’). Enter Don Jose (Aria: ‘I do not threaten, I besooch you’) but Carmen repels him wants to join with Escamillio now chaired by the crowd. Don Jose stabbs her (Aria: ‘Oh rupture, rupture, you may arrest me, I did kill her’) he sings ‘Oh my beautiful Carmen, my subductive Carmen.’
While I was making the bed just before, I noticed that the summer quilt we’re using has the very Konglish brand name SHE’S CLUB.
This immediately reminded me of a dress shop I’ve seen in the medium-sized suburb of Strathfield (which has a large Korean community) named SHE’S … something. Is it SHE’S BOUTIQUE? No, that’s in Downers Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago (with no indication of Korean ownership on the shop front).
Google Maps Street View to the rescue. (I don’t usually give free publicity to corporate entities, but I really gotta in this case.)
Automated translations of Facebook posts are meant to help, but one I’ve just read was inaccurate or incoherent or both. Among other things, it translated 아들아! (a-deul-a), a standard vocative which might be translated as ‘hey, son!’) as ‘You son of a bitch!’. There are multiple references to “father” and “son”, but it from the English translation it is impossible to tell whether the writer is talking about his father and son, himself and his father (referring to himself as “son”), himself and his son (referring to himself as “father”) or someone else’s father and son etc. There was just enough coherence to know that he was not talking about fathers and sons in general, or about God the Father and God the Son, which would otherwise be two more possibilities.
(For the record, “You son of a bitch!” in Korean is 너 개자식! (neo gae-ja-sik). I am not only relying on a translator for that; I did ask a native speaker (not by saying it to them directly!). Don’t rely on translation tools for insults.)
This afternoon in the office, a colleague offered me a Preserved Wife Plum. Gastronomically, they are small, dry, hard and flavoured, with the pit still inside. Linguistically, they are anyone’s guess. The three Chinese speakers sharing my office couldn’t tell me what the name meant. I don’t know whether it is meant to be [preserved (wife plum)] (whatever a wife plum is) or [(preserved wife) plum] (whatever a preserved wife is – it’s probably better not to ask). I thought that perhaps it was a misprint for ‘wine’, but if it was, surely one of the Chinese speakers could have figured that out from the Chinese characters.
The internet shows that the product exists, but doesn’t explain the name. The blogger gentlemanfarmer tells of his encounter with them, describing them as ‘Dried and salty and sweet and a little plummy’. He writes: ‘Also a red square with the words: “Additional Support: We like the new taste. We need the quality and we need the best food. Here you will find what you want. Cool fashion need Cool taste. You are the new man. How delicious can not forget special taste. Return the pure flavor. Give you the minerable feeling.”’ The red rectangle on the packet I saw is all in Chinese. In a reply to a comment, he also speculates that it is a typo for ‘wine’.
The other most informative result is from the blogger Peverelli on the blog chinafoodingredients. S/he writes ‘Huamei, dried and preserved plums, has been a favourite snack of Chinese, in particular ladies, for ages’. Possibly, then, they are ‘preserved plums for wives’. ‘The traditional huamei were basically dried and salted plums, scented with licorice and sometimes other ingredients like: lemon juice, aniseed, cloves or cinnamon.’
One of the very few points of contact between Communist Romania and Western Europe in Cold War days was rugby union football. Tours by world-class countries and teams were eagerly anticipated and warmly welcomed. The then President of the English R.F.U. accompanied a goodwill visit by England’s national side. At the after-match official reception – attended by Nicolai Ceauceșcu himself – the President had to give a speech. Wanting to please his hosts and open with a Romanian phrase, he memorised the words written on the outside of the toilet doors, reasoning that they meant “Ladies” and “Gentlemen”. His speech got a huge laugh and roars of approval. Gratified, the visiting English dignitary was pleased his jokes had gone down so well. And then an aide to Ceauceșcu politely said that the Exalted Comrade had been most amused at the speech. But, President Ceauceșcu wishes to know. Why did you begin with Urinals And Water-Closets?
Within a short space of time, I spotted two puzzling names, a coffee shop called ENOTS YVAN and a church called ‘[this city] Retired Pastor Church’. Some research later, and I’m not much clearer. References to both names exist online, but they’re all in Korean.
Students were writing dialogues or speeches to present for their midterm speaking exams. I briefly checked as many as I could, but couldn’t check every detail of every one. As the students were leaving, one pair put their dialogues in front of me and said ‘Is this right?’. I glanced over it and one sentence jumped out at me: “I used to be cremated.” All I could say was “That’s just wrong. Check it very carefully.”
Students were writing dialogues or speeches for their midterm exams. One, in a dialogue, wrote ‘ailain’. I asked ‘What is that?’ and she replied ‘/aɪlaɪn/’. (Looking at it, in an English sentence, I would have pronounced it /eɪleɪn/.) ‘I said ‘How do you spell ‘eye’ in English? How do you spell ‘line’ in English?’. ‘Oh’, she said, then wrote it correctly. I had not previously encountered 아이라인 in Korean, but apparently its well-established among female university students and online. (I would probably also say ‘eyeliner’ (if I even had occasion to), but I’ll go with ‘eyeline’.)