The horse is good

Between my first and second trips to Korea I gained a masters degree by online study. One of my subjects was Asian Languages, and the textbook was The Languages of East and South-East Asia by Cliff Goddard. The cover has words in three or four scripts, and the presence of the Korean word 말 (mal, word or language) in the bottom left-hand corner made me suspect that all of them had something to do with words or languages. 

One day the manager of the language college I was working at noticed the book on my desk and asked me if I knew what the first row of Chinese said. I said I didn’t. He explained that it was a four-character phrase (which I think I’d vaguely heard or read about) and said that it means something like “Few words, many actions” (more about which later). 

Soon after, my class had their weekly test and I took the book into the classroom to read or at least browse while I was supervising them. One young Chinese student took a long time to settle down to doing the test, so I held up the book and pointed to those words. That shocked her into doing her test. 

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the short and long of it

Before I went to Korea for the first time, I bought, among other things, the then-current edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Korea. In the Culture section, it says:

Traditional saying provide an uncensored insight into a nation’s psyche.

An unblemished character is a Korean’s most treasured possession. To avoid any suspicion of being a thief, ‘Do not tie your shoelaces in a melon patch or touch your hat under a pear tree.’

Yesterday evening I was browsing through TV Tropes and found its page for Translation: “Yes”, which it explains:

While we commonly expect short phrases in one language to be equally short in another, sometimes short phrases are translated into surprisingly long ones: however, many shows parody this completely by having a single word become a long phrase in English, or a ridiculously long phrase to a single English word, often the word ‘Yes’.

I noticed this many years ago when proofreading transcripts of court proceedings against the audio recording. There would be exchanges like:

Barrister (in English): Did you see the accused do something on the night in question?
Interpreter (in other language): [Approximately that long sentence.]
Witness (in other language): [Very long sentence.]
Interpreter (in English): Yes. 

The judge and barristers never seemed to notice or question this.

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Korean proverbs

Some time ago I posted that during a lesson based on English proverbs, a student claimed that there weren’t anything similar in Korean, only for another student in another lesson a few days later to spontaneously say “Well, as we say in Korea: ‘The ship with a hundred captains ends up in the mountains’”. 

Recently I posted about a series of videos of slow, repeated listening in Korean. One of the sentences I heard a few days ago was 일찍 일어나는 새가 벌레를 잡아먹습니다 (early waking bird beetle catches and eats), obviously the direct equivalent of ‘The early bird catches the worm’. (Google Translate translates it as ‘Birds that wake up early eat insects’, which is rather more prosaic.)

Later in the same video was 부부싸움은 칼로 물 베기이다, which is approximately ‘A couple’s fight is like cutting water with a knife’, that is, it does no lasting harm. I can’t think of any direct equivalent in English, and can only suggest the mixed ‘A lover’s quarrel is a storm in a tea-cup’. I think it sounds remarkably optimistic of Koreans to say so at any time, let alone to enshrine it as proverbial wisdom. (Google Translate possibly misses the point with ‘Marriage fight is a knife cut’, which might actually be closer to what English speakers might say!)

PS an example of a page of ‘Korean proverbs’. I can’t guarantee the authenticity.

Every cloud possesses a silver lining

Writing about David Essex yesterday reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write about another song of his, “Hold me close“.

Twice, he sings:

Every cloud’s got a silver lining

But the final time, he sings:

Every cloud has a silver lining

I was going to write at length about ‘ve/’s got v have/has (note that very few people say/write have/has got in full), but I got very confused very quickly and don’t want to confuse you. I thought more about I’ve got and I have because we talk more about I than we do about every cloud. As well as I’ve got and I have, there’s also I got and I’ve gotten, as well as have as a main verb and have as the auxiliary of the perfect. I’ve got a is slightly more associated with British English, but even there I have a is by far the most common.

But I got thinking: do people say or write Every cloud’s got a silver lining or Every cloud has a silver lining? Google Ngrams shows absolutely no results for Every cloud’s got a silver lining, which means that its dataset does not include 1970s English pop songs. A general Google search shows about 1,050,000 results for “every cloud has a silver lining” (in quotation marks, for an exact match) and about 1,040 for “every cloud’s got a silver lining”, most of which are references to this song. Worryingly, Google suggests every clouds got a silver lining, for which there are 935 results, most of which are references to this song. I’m not surprised that people who create websites of song lyrics don’t how to use apostrophes, but I’m worried that Google doesn’t. 

Many proverbs circulate in slightly different forms, but this one is remarkably stable (and also Every dog has its day, which sprang to mind).

(I thought I’d written a previous post about I’ve got and I have in pop songs, but I can’t find it.)

Cold hands, 따뜻한 마음

Last night my wife and I had dinner with friends in their new apartment. After dinner, we watched an episode of the Korean drama 응답하라 1988 (eung-dap-ha-ra), of which I was previously unaware (more about that later). Unlike the dramas my wife watches online, this one, on a streaming service, had English subtitles, so I was was able to follow most of the story (apart from figuring out who was who and how they were related). At one point the female lead and one of her male friends are sitting in the rain. He asks “Why are your hands so cold?”. She replies “Because my heart is warm”.

That is equivalent to English “Cold hands, warm heart”, which I haven’t seen or heard for years. My wife later told me that the full expression in Korean is 마음이 따뜻하면 손이 차갑다, or If you heart is warm, your hands are cold. (There are variations on the internet, including some which put the hands first, as in English.) I haven’t been able to find whether this expression is meant to be literal, figurative or both, and which way round the cause and effect is. My Facebook friends have been unable to help me. As is the often way with most of these sayings, there are multiple interpretations.

I later found that 응답하라 1988 was shown on Korean cable tv in late 2015 – early 2016, which explains why I didn’t know it. I was in Korea at the time, but not watching any cable tv (and very little free-to-air tv). The title 응답하라 1988 is officially given as Reply 1988, which doesn’t make much sense. Some sources give it as Answer me 1988, and Google and Bing both translate 응답하라 by itself as respond, both of which make more sense.

Early in the episode, one character refers to McDonald’s in Apgujeong. Yes, the first McDonald’s there opened in 1988, at the time of and almost certainly because of the Olympic Games that year.

dirty stinking

Dirty and stinking are usually used negatively, but an advertisement for headphones highlights the “big dirty stinking bass” provided by them, purportedly quoting a user.

Dirty is most often used to describe: work, clothes, water, trick(s), hands, linen, business, streets and shirt, being a combination of literal and figurative dirtiness. Stinking is most often used to describe: water, breath, fish, mud, smoke, hole, smut, fume, oil and savour, most of them literal stinkingness. Stinking smut isn’t pornography, but another name for common bunt, a disease which affects wheat. Wikipedia doesn’t record whether it actually smells, compared with just any old smut. Stinking savour is found only or mainly in the Authorised Version of the Bible: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). This sounds unusual to me, because I would immediately think that savour as a noun was a positive word. Modern translations (eg New International Version) give: “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” See also a fly in the ointment.

Google’s only result for dirty, stinking *_NOUN is insects. I’m not sure how many dirty stinking insects there are – I can’t immediately think of any, apart from stink bugs, which aren’t necessarily dirty. Otherwise, dirty and stinking appear close together in The planet of the apes (but not  in the Simpson’s parody Stop the planet of the apes, I want to get off).