1004 angels

Driving home from my sister’s house this afternoon, my wife suddenly said “Angel”. I said “What?”. She said “That house”. I said “What about that house?”. She said “Cheon-sa” (which I know is the Korean word for angel. I said “What about it?”. She said “That house has the number 1004. Cheon-sa.” Okay, okay, I’ll get Korean puns eventually.

Some Korean (actually Sino-Korean) numbers are pronounced the same as real words, or parts of real words. Il (one) can also be day or work, i (two) can also be this or the surname Lee. (There is nothing unusual about this – English one can also be won, and two can be to or too). With no context, it is impossible to know whether cheon-sa is 1004 or angel.

Even in context, it might be ambiguous. In the “Catalogue Aria” of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Leporello lists the Don’s sexual encounters, ending “In Spain, one thousand and three ”. So he can presumably say to the next one “You are my cheon-sa”. If he knew Korean and if he wasn’t dead by the end of the opera.

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one, two three, first, second, third

There is statistical law called Benford’s law or the first-digit law, which states that in many naturally occurring collections of numbers, the first digit is significantly more likely to be 1, 2 or 3, and significantly less likely to be 7, 8 or 9. 1 is the first digit about 30% of the time, and 9 about 5%.

This also generally applies the written words one, two, three etc. Google Ngrams shows that one to six appear in exactly that order, then ten, eight, seven and nine. Ten gets a boost because of its use as the base for the decimal system, while eight is a power of two, and we prefer counting in even numbers.

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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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