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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Everest Mountain and Halla Mountain

I gave a student a list of words to prompt his speaking, one of which was gorgeous. He said that a gorgeous sight is “Everest Mountain”. Because I was testing his overall fluency, I didn’t stop him. Soon after, I asked him about a gorgeous sight in his country, being South Korea, and he said “Halla Mountain“.

In English, Mount (or Mt) Everest is the only choice. In Korean, 한라산 is the only choice. In English, we can say Halla Mountain (reflecting the Korean word order), Mt Halla or Mt Hallasan (which is pleonastic but widespread, according to an online search), but probably not Hallasan Mountain. But search results may be unreliable, because many web pages use more than one form. 

Because I only refer to this mountain when I’m talking to Korean people, I say Hallasan. I can’t decide what I would say if was talking to a non-Korean person.

(Some time ago I wrote about Gyeongbokgung v Gyeongbokgung Palace v Gyeongbok Palace and also mentioned –do for island and –san for mountain.)

“I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started”

Practicing past perfect tense, a student wrote:

I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started.

This felt (and still feels) strange to me, but I can’t figure out why. It is perfectly clear and follows the general rule of tense sequences. I would naturally say I arrived at the cinema before the movie started, because the sequence of events is clearly indicated by before.

The only reason I can think of for the strangeness is that we rarely use past perfect in the main clause of a sentence. But does that mean we never do? 

I have less problem with more context:

My friends always teased me for being late for everything, but here I was. I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started. 

I also have less problem with reversing the halves of the sentence:

Before the movie started, I had arrived at the cinema.

or the equivalent:

The movie started after I had arrived at the cinema.

(Though in each case, I would probably omit had.)

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"Why did you go to bed last night?"

This year I have been teaching English on Saturdays as well as doing a weekday job not related to English teaching. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the college managers decided that teaching will be done online, but gave us very little time to prepare. I downloaded a conferencing tool and got as far as setting up sessions and inviting students. Today six students joined, four of them for most of the time. Among other things, I reviewed questions with who, what, where, when, how and why (and later whose, which, how much, how many, how many times, how often and how long). One student wrote:

Why did you go to bed last night?

She very quickly changed it to:

Why did you go to bed late last night?

As with many things in English, the ‘wrong’ question is actually more interesting than the ‘right’ one. “Why did you go to bed last night?” is perfectly grammatical and makes sense, but no-one ever asks it because there are basically only two overlapping reasons why any human goes to bed: they are tired (or sick) and/or they have to get up earlier rather than later the next morning. (We might also add boredom, habit or social convention.) 

On the other hand, “Why did you go to bed late last night?” needs a context where the asker knows that the askee did, in fact, go to bed late: either the askee says “I went to bed at (some late time)” or the asker first asks “What time did you go to bed last night?” and got “(Some late time)” as an answer. Asking “Why did you go to bed late last night?” out of such a context is likely to just confuse the askee.

boy/girl band/group

The topic for the class was music and the one student who had shown up at that point asked the interesting question whether we say (or should say) boy band or boy group, and girl band or girl group. I was momentarily flummoxed, because I don’t usually talk about … whatever they are. Fortunately, there was a break immediately afterwards, so I did some quick research. It turns out that boy band is much more common than boy group, and girl group is more common than girl band. Among other things, Wikipedia’s relevant pages are titled boy band and girl group. Possibly the reason is simple alliteration. (Google Ngrams shows boy band from the 1860s. I wonder what kind those were then.)

There is a rock band from Ireland named Girl Band, who are all boys. On the other hand, there was Girlband, a pop group from Australia, who are all girls, and Girlband, a girl band from England, who are also all girls. 

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A colleague asked me about the given name Igor. I asked why. She said that her son’s name (of non-Russian/English-speaking origin) sounds like Igor, and she was wondering whether they should use that as his “English name”. She told me his name, which does sound like Igor, but I didn’t write it down and wouldn’t be able to guess at it now.

I said that I couldn’t recommend the “English name” Igor. I mentioned Igor Stravinsky and Igor Sikorsky (famous in the worlds of modern classical music and helicopters), then told her about the Frankenstein movies. Most of the images Google showed were of Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein (trailer). I think – I hope – she took my point. I said that it’s possible that his friends and classmates will give him that name, in which case he will probably be stuck with it.

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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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Let’s do breakfast!

Sometimes, in order to cut a long story short, I have to tell my students something I know isn’t true. 

A textbook activity had the standard format of a box with base-form verbs at the top, then sentences with a gap in each, with the instruction to choose the right verb and change it to the right verb tense. One sentence included breakfast, and one student chose the verb do. I said “We don’t do breakfast. What do we do?” (Hmmm, there are two dos in that question … There’s another blog post there.) He said “Eat”. I said “But eat isn’t in the box. What else do we do?” He looked and said “Have”. I said “Right. Now change the verb tense.”

Other things we can do to breakfast include get, make, cook, prepare, buy, enjoy … and do. Some people “do breakfast”, or “do lunch”, or “do dinner”. Mostly “do lunch” and mostly in the form “Let’s do lunch (sometime)!”. 

This is a modern usage. Google Ngrams shows that do lunch has rocketed in usage since the mid-1980s, with do dinner and do breakfast also increasing, but less dramatically. 

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Friday was a traditional festival in China and Korea (and other East and South-East Asian countries). By coincidence, the first two students to arrive yesterday (Saturday) were from those two countries, so I asked them if they’d done anything special. Neither had. 

I asked the Chinese student what he would call the festival in English, and he just couldn’t say. I told him that it’s usually called ‘Mid-Autumn Festival’, and he seemed surprised at that. The Chinese name is 中秋節 (zhōngqiū jié), literally middle-autumn-festival. Other possible names in English are ‘Chinese Traditional Thanksgiving’ or ‘Harvest Moon Festival’, though with increasingly urbanised life, the link to the moon and harvest is being lost. Maybe in country areas it’s stronger.

The Korean name is 추석 (chu-soek), which might mean ‘Autumn Eve’ Google Translate simply translates it as ‘Chuseok’, and Bing Translator as ‘Thanksgiving’. Google doesn’t translate ‘chu’ and ‘seok’ by themselves as anything relevant. Bing translates ‘chu’ as ‘autumn’ , but it certainly isn’t the standard word for autumn, which is 가을, but ‘seok’ as nothing relevant.

Wikipedia also calls Chuseok by the hanja (Chinese characters traditionally used in Korea) 秋夕, qiū xī, which translates as ‘autumn eve’ (or ‘autumn evening’) (which Google and Bing both agree with). (The first character of that is the same as the second character of the Chinese festival’s name.)

For what it’s worth, Wikipedia’s article on the Chinese festival is named ‘Mid-Autumn Festival’ and the one on the Korean festival is named ‘Chuseok’.