Verb it!

I’ve been struggling for ideas for posts, so I turned to the online discussions I had with my classmates during my masters study in 2010-12, which we were able to save as text files.

One involved the use of technology-related nouns and verbs. The discussion thread was Google it! As the name of a website, Google is a noun (and upper case), but people soon began using it as a verb and writing it in lower case. Many people decry the verbing of nouns and/or using registered company or product names as generics (see generic trademark) but both are common procedures in English. I can remember people faxing (though fax was never a proper noun, and was an abbreviation of facsimile (another common procedure in English – I don’t think anyone ever facsimilied (btw when was the last time you sent a fax?))), and references to people telexing (which was originally an upper-case proper noun). Before that, people telephoned, then ’phoned then phoned. All of these are transitive verbs: Google it, fax the document to me, fax it to me, fax me the document, ?/*fax me it, phone me, ?telephone me. (See also telegram, telegraph (including its metaphoric use) and wire.) (I can also remember an advertisement (?for a graphic designer) informing us that we could ‘fax or modem’ our requirements to them.)

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“Swimming dancing to music”

Nine years ago I used the then-current London Olympics to talk about the Olympic Games, Olympic sports in particular and other sports in general, especially those popular in the students’ countries or which they played, which also gave a lot of opportunities for asking questions with who, what, where, when, how, how much, how many, how many times, how long and why. At the time, I had two students from Greece in my class, who actually lived within sight of Mount Olympus. One of them especially said “Oooh, is Greek word” any time we encountered a Greek word, which was obviously a lot during this class. The other one thought very carefully and said “swimming dancing to music” as an Olympic sport. With a little bit of knowledge of Greek I was able to guide him towards swimming with (σύν, sún, syn-) music and in time (χρόνος, khrónos, chron-) to it.

“Swimming dancing to music” is actually a very good attempt to communicate when he didn’t know the actual word.

Bach and ch in general

One of my first piano learner’s books had a piece called Air from Bach, which I first pronounced as /bætʃ/ (batch). When one of my older sisters told me it was /bak/ (bark) (non-rhotic in Australia), I didn’t believe her until someone else (maybe our piano teacher or grandmother, assured me that it was. Except it’s not. The sound at the end is /x/, a voiceless velar fricative, the sound at the end of Scottish loch, or /χ/ a voiceless uvular fricative. Most English speakers don’t bother, either with Bach or loch or any other relevant word, but I vaguely remember hearing a monologue by Garrison Keillor on how he first started in radio. He volunteered for a student radio program (?to impress a girl), and when he needed to study, he’d put on the complete and uninterrupted recording of the Mass in B minor by Johann Sebastian Bacchh (in the days of LP records?). I can’t find that online. If anyone can help me, I’d be grateful. 

I was reminded of this by the username of my chief commenter of recent times, Batchman. While ch in English can be /k/ (architect), /tʃ/ (bachelor), /ʃ/ (champagne) or /x/ (loch), tch can only be /tʃ/ (unless is is split across two syllables, as in chitchat (which might end up as chi-chat in rapid speech)). Basically, words with /k/ are Greek, words with /tʃ/ are Germanic and words with /ʃ/ are French.

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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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sleep with

I slept with one of my students.
I slept. With one of my students.

The trains in Sydney are subject to occasional trackwork: the shutting down of all or some of a line for planned maintenance, theoretically to prevent unplanned failures. Buses take passengers from station to station in various configurations. Sometimes they take passengers from one major suburban station to another, where the passengers rejoin trains. Sometimes, when the whole line is shut down, they take passengers directly to the city. Today I caught a bus from my major suburban station to the city. Because most of the route is on an orbital motorway, it was actually quicker than the train it replaced, but I managed to doze off.

In the afternoon, I walked to where the return bus was leaving from (coincidentally in front of the office where I do my weekday job). There was a long line of people waiting, so I was one of the last people onto that bus. One of the last spare seats just happened to be next to … one of my students, who’d been waiting ahead of me in the line (I hadn’t seen him as I’d walked past). I sat down, asked where he lives, then explained I was very tired, so I might sleep rather than talk to him. And I was out like a light and woke up just as the bus was coming into my suburban station.

So I slept … with one of my students.

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What can I remember?

At my first English language college in Australia (approximately 10 years ago) the classes joined together for the last lesson on Fridays and watched a movie. There was meant to be some educational value but I was sometimes a bit worried about choices of the colleague who usually chose the movie.

One such movie was Bad Boys, starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. There is genuine linguistic point in the use of African American Vernacular English, but that probably would have been lost on the students. At one point the two police seek information from a reluctant informer. I always remembered him saying “I don’t know everything about everything, but I do know some things about some things”. I was going to use that as a tagline for this blog, but didn’t want to quote anything I wasn’t 100% sure of. 

Recently, I thought to look at Wikiquote’s page for the movie, which records him as saying “I don’t know everything. I only know a little bit”. So there goes that one.

At one choir camp – if my fragment of a memory serves me correctly, in 1991 – we sang a choral piece which included the words “inextricably rooted”, which has an unfortunate double meaning for a speaker of Australian English, in which root can mean to engage in sexual intercourse (with) or damage or destroy, and rooted has related meanings. I thought “Surely that’s got to be somewhere on the internet”. Apparently not. There are occurrences of “inextricably rooted”, but seemingly none related to poetry or choral music. But the fact that the internet doesn’t record something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

So am I misremembering or not? It is a simple matter to find the first example – find the DVD in and shop, or the movie online, and skip to that point. To find the second example, I don’t have to search every piece of choral music – I’m sure that the poem was secular and that the composer was a 20th century American. If I am misremembering, then of course I will never find it, but I might find something very similar to it.

I mentioned “inextricably rooted” briefly in a major international linguistics forum, and no-one has said “Oh, that’s [this poem] by [that poet]”.

Indo-European clothes

In 2015, many of my students were from Pakistan. Some of them wore traditional Pakistani clothes, especially on Fridays, when they went from class to prayers at a mosque. I asked them what those clothes were called, and they said “Shalwar kameez”. The shalwar is the trousers and the kameez the top. It’s a long way from Pakistani men to the chemise and camisole, but the garments and the words are related. 

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rhyming slang

The tv comedy Mind your language ran from 1977 to 1979. I use it occasionally in class to illustrate vocabulary, grammar and communication. One episode (“Many happy returns”) is largely about money. It starts with Sid the college caretaker asking Gladys the tea lady for a free cup of tea, because he’s (something). She replies “You’re always skint, Sid!”. The subtitles (whether auto-generated or created by a human – some episodes are better than others) have “I’m a bit glacier mint”, but audibly that’s not what he says. I had always guessed that it is rhyming slang, as several other episodes show him using that, and even attempting to teach it to the students (one of whom refers to it as “cockeyed slanging rhyme”).

Fast-forward to a few days ago, when I was browsing through a book which I’ll donate or throw away soon. It has a section on Cockney rhyming slang, and one of the items is boracic lint. That is indeed what Sid says, but what is it? Wikipedia explains, quoting its entire article:

Boracic lint was a type of medical dressing made from surgical lint that was soaked in a hot, saturated solution of boracic acid and glycerine and then left to dry.

It has been in use since at least the 19th century, but is now less commonly used. When in use, boracic lint proved to be very valuable in the treatment of leg ulcers.

The term “boracic”, pronounced “brassic”, is also used as Cockney rhyming slang for having no money – “boracic lint” → “skint”.

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498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …

Wrong or right?

I’ve been sorting through paper documents and computer files, and been finding all sorts of miscellaneous things. One is a photocopy of a page from a textbook, at the bottom of which I wrote two sentences spoken by two students. This is at least two-and-a-half years old (that is, before I went to Korea the second time) and is more likely to be closer to four (I vaguely remember that it dates from when another teacher and I swapped upper- and lower-level classes for two days each week – these sentences came from the lower-level class).

The activity was “Speaking: Real life”. Seven scenarios are given, and I got the students to write their sentences before they spoke them (which is why I was able to copy these two sentences; I probably wouldn’t have had time if they had just spoken them). One scenario is “You are buying a ticket in a railway station. The clerk says the price of the ticket but you don’t understand him. What do you say?”

One student wrote (and later said):

Sorry I not good English so you writing this paper please.

The second sentence isn’t related to the same activity, and I can’t think of the context. Anyway, another student wrote:

I can’t ride motorcycle, because I’m not learn ride bicycle yet. But I have learn drive car before.

These sentences are “wrong”, but in many ways they are very “right” – most of the right words are there, in the right order, and there’s absolutely no doubt what those students meant; most of what is missing is the “grammar”.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember what I said about those sentences, or how I went about correcting them.