A colleague emailed to say that her son was taking her to a dental appointment at 2.30. 

Tooth-hurty – geddit?

It’s an old joke, and no-one responded with exactly that, because she’d alluded to it in her email. Another colleague replied that her son was obviously driving her to extraction. 

There are approximately 6,000 to 7,000 languages in the world and I would guess that this joke works in approximately one of them, and then only because of questionable grammar. In Korean, for example, 2.30 is 세시 삼십분 (se-shi sam-ship-bun) and tooth hurts is 이가 아파요, which obviously don’t sound anything like each other. 

무슨 이? 이 이!


Sunday 순대

Before I moved to Korea the first time I read up about the country, people, language and culture,  but somehow missed out on the food 순대 (sun-dae (soon-day, not Sunday)), a sausage made of steamed cow or pig intestine stuffed with some combination of meat, blood, vegetables and rice or noodles.

Within a few weeks, a student told me she’d just eaten soon-day. I should have just asked her to explain, but I thought she meant and was mispronouncing the American English sundae (Sunday, not soon-day), so I wrote it on the board and asked “Is that what you mean?” and she said yes. I said “What flavour?”. She looked puzzled and said “Pig flavour”. Sunday and (English) sundae are (probably) related, but Korean 순대 isn’t.

This evening my wife cooked 순대국 (sundae soup). I said that it isn’t my favourite, and she asked me if I know what 순대 is. I said “Of course, it’s Soonday today”. She looked puzzled. I said “Soonday, Moonday, Tuesday …”. Our niece then had to explain. I doubt if I would understand a corresponding joke in Korean, so I shouldn’t have expected her to understand that. 

Maybe I should call 일요일 simply 요일 because, for me, 일요일에 일 없어요. Bilingually, a lawyer’s favourite day is obviously 수요일 and a pedicurist’s is 토요일. 

Me and my true love

Towards the end of each year, each department in the company I work for prepares a presentation of some kind to be distributed electronically rather than presented live. This year’s efforts are being hampered by the fact that almost everyone has been working from home almost all of the time for almost all of the year, but a colleague is very good at parody lyrics, and he’s written a song which we are currently recording separately for another colleague to edit together.

Apparently there’s a verse, which someone is singing, then the chorus is:

We worked from our homes and we worked all alone,
We’re the team that does publication
For me and my colleagues may never meet again
On the bonny, bonny banks of the lockdown.

Linguistically, I spotted me and my colleagues. Some people would call that wrong. Certainly, my colleagues(/true love) and I is standard English, but that doesn’t fit the song, and absolutely no-one is going to sing I and my colleagues(/true love), even if it fits. Me and X is best described as a widely-used, informal, more often spoken variation in English grammar (but it’s not part of my idiolect). (Stan Carey had another angle on this recently.)

Some months ago I discovered a small lake in Scotland named Loch Doon, and joked that it would be the ideal place to spend a period of quarantine. (Not really – it’s in the middle of nowhere, and the ruined castle won’t give you much shelter.)

Juice, please

On most mornings my wife makes a delicious fruit smoothie. This morning she stood at the foot of the stairs and said “Here is your juice” (expecting me to go down and get it). I said “Juice-seyo”. The Korean for please give is 주세요 (ju-se-yo). She didn’t get my (attempted) pun, and though I was merely asking her to bring it up to me.

The first step is making puns in a second language. The second step is making good puns in a second language.

(The loan word 주스 (ju-seu) is used in Korean, so it is possible to say 주스 주세요.)

Once a pun a time …

One of the problems with listening to music for most of the day as I work from home is that most free music platforms support themselves with advertising revenue, so the music is regularly interrupted by ads which have nothing to do with the music, and often nothing to do with me. That’s the price I pay for not paying the price.

One assiduous advertiser on one major video hosting site enables shoppers to get significant discounts on purchases from many major retailers. (I’m not sure how this works – I can’t figure out how the company and the retailers both make money from the retailers selling at a discount). These purchases are illustrated by “everyday Aussies” holding their purchases, where [Name’s product] makes a pun on the name of someone famous. Some of these puns are better or worse, depending on your taste in puns. I think Camilla’s pasta bowls is better and Kim’s car dash cam is worse. 

Two are particularly noteworthy, because the possessive ’s’ becomes part of surname of the famous person: Sylvester’s cologne and Jack’s barrow. But while ‘scologne’ is still distinguishable from ‘Stallone’ because of the difference between /k/ and /t/, ‘sbarrow’ is almost indistinguishable from ‘Sparrow’ because the differences between /p/ and /b/ are almost neutralised following /s/. By itself, /p/ is unvoiced and aspirated; following /s/ it is non-aspirated. By itself, /b/ is voiced and unaspirated; following /b/ it is devoiced. 

(No names, no free adversing. Search and you will find.)

Pun me

In an online video/chat session with an international social group I typed that I have a colleague who can outpun me. The autocorrect in that software changed that to outrun, which is probably true but it isn’t what I meant to say. I saw the autocorrect in action and changed it back to what I meant to say in the first place. Pages for Mac and WordPress don’t autocorrect it, but red underline it.

Pun can be a verb, but it is usually used intransitively: He can pun on any topic you name. But we can imagine Shakespeare writing: Jest me no jests, pun me no puns. Actually, we can’t, because the word wasn’t used at all until after Shakespeare’s time. 

There is a website called Pun me and an Instagram thread titled Pun me as hard a possible.

For most of my life I’ve been the chief punster in most situations, so it’s taken some getting used to.

The Pun Jar

Speaking of miscreants, several of my colleagues are dedicated punners. One former colleague was apparently not impressed, and set up a Pun Jar for ‘miscreants’ to contribute a small amount per offence. Yesterday, a (male) colleague decided that he didn’t want to be termed a miscreant, so he set up a Pun Jar B, for ‘mister creants’. Today I wrote ਪੰਜਾਬੀ underneath Pun Jar B, carefully copying from Wikipedia’s page on the Punjabi language. (I hope that text has reproduced on your screen.)

I have always pronounced Punjab with a /ʊ/, as in put, so Punjabi and Pun Jar B are not homophones. The first online dictionary I checked gives /ʌ/, as in putt, so the difference between Punjabi and Pun Jar B is only one of stress. Wikipedia’s page on the language gives the English pronunciation with /ʌ/, but the Punjabi pronunciation with /ə/, as in open. In my weekend English class, I currently have two students from Punjab, so I asked them, and they both said /ə/, but that they often hear native English speakers say /ʊ/. 


I made joke in Korean and my wife and her friends totally failed to get it. We had dinner at a harbourside fish and chip shop, and she bought ginger beer for me, despite that fact that she’s next seen me drinking ginger beer, which is because I never do. I said “I don’t drink this. I don’t like this.” She said “It’s beer. You drink beer.” I said “진짜 beer?” (jin-jja beer, (is it) really beer?). Haha.

I found out later that 찐자 (jjin-ja) means ‘steamed’, so with my pronunciation it might have been possible that I was asking whether it was steamed beer (whatever that is). I asked her after we got home, and she said she thought I had simply said ginger beer.

Ginger, 진짜 and 찐자 aren’t homophones, but are close enough for the joke to potentially work. Ginger is actually closer to 찐자 so if I ever have steamed beer, I’ll try again.