Mount Nam

I have posted twice before (and see also) about whether it is better to say or write, for example, Gyeongbokgung, Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace. We have more choices with mountains because we can put mount(ain) before or after the name: Namsan, Namsan Mountain, Nam Mountain, Mount Namsan. One possibility I didn’t suggest was Mount Nam, because I’d never encountered it, but recently I did, in a blog I can’t name because I’ve forgotten which of several I’ve been browsing recently it was. For some reason, Mount Nam looks and sounds wrong, but Mount Halla and Mount Seorak look and sound reasonable. It might be that Nam is monosyllabic, but nearby where I went to high school was Mount Brown. 

A movie review mentioned a tv series named Jirisan. Wikipedia’s page on the tv series is named Jirisan (TV series) but refers to Mount Jiri throughout, while its page on the mountain is named Jirisan and refers to Jirisan, except for two fleeting references to ‘Mt. Jiri’. But I shouldn’t (indeed can’t) expect consistency from Wikipedia. 

Ultimately, there’s no ideal solution. The simplest is to use Gyeongbokgung and Jirisan, but using Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jirisan Mountain is more helpful. In fact, the most helpful is “Gyeongbokgung, a palace near the centre of Seoul”, and “Jirisan, a mountain in the south of Korea”, but you wouldn’t want to do that every time. A lot depends on your intended listeners/readers.


Comma or no comma?

You’ve probably figured out that I find Microsoft Word’s grammar checker rather too simplistic, but sometimes it throws up an issue which is subtle and interesting. A sentence was equivalent to:

After the first hearing the plaintiff wrote to me, because I had raised a concern that he had not mentioned physical violence in his written claim, and submitted that he had never been physically harmed by the defendant.

The grammar checker suggested removing the second comma. But that would change the meaning of the sentence. As it stands, the person who submitted was the plaintiff, because everything between the commas can be omitted:

The plaintiff wrote to me and submitted that he had never been physically harmed by the defendant.

Removing the comma means that the person who submitted was the legal officer:

The plaintiff wrote to me. Why? Because I had raised a concern [about one thing] and submitted [another thing].

At least that’s my reading on it, on the basis that plaintiffs, in general, submit. Legal officers, on the other hand, among other things, find:

I had raised a concern [about one thing] and found [another thing].

If the relevant verb was suggested, then the sentence could go either way; plaintiffs and legal officers can equally suggest.

This might all have been avoided by adding ‘to me’ (viz, the plaintiff submitted to ‘me’) or ‘to him’ (viz, ‘I’ submitted to the plaintiff). I didn’t have to decide, because my editing tasks don’t include inserting or removing commas. 

Added later: the more I thought about it, the more submitted seemed a strange choice either way. Legal officers don’t have to submit anything to a plaintiff, and a plaintiff will usually submit something supporting their case. Here, the plaintiff’s case was actually weakened by conceding that he had never been physically harmed.

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.)

incorrectly interesting

Observation 1: The big parts of language are easy; the small parts are hard.
Observation 2: Mistakes are often more interesting than correct answers.

My students have just finished the textbook and today was a revision day before the test tomorrow. One revision question was something like “My father (watch/watches/watching) television every day”. Several students chose watch. This is, of course, incorrect standard English, but only by a twist of history. There’s no particular reason why third-person singular verb forms have –s/es. There’s no possibility of misunderstanding. Many languages exist quite happily with the equivalent of “My father watch television every day”. Indeed, some non-standard varieties of English exist quite happily with exactly that. Nothing would be lost and quite a bit would be gained by omitting 3sg –s/-es, but standard English includes it, so that’s what I’ve got to teach and that’s what’s my students have to learn. (Several hundred years ago, standard English lost 2sg –est, and no-one missed it.)

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instantaneously v instantly

A few days ago, an article I was subediting used the word instantaneously in conjunction with transmitted – I can’t remember which way round. I started wondering if there is any distinction between instantaneously and the shorter instantly, if there is, then what is it, and if there isn’t, whether I should change it anyway. defines instantaneous as:

occurring, done, or completed in an instant:
an instantaneous response.
existing at or pertaining to a particular instant:
the instantaneous position of the rocket.

It defines instant (as an adjective) as:

succeeding without any interval of time; prompt; immediate:
instant relief from a headache.
pressing or urgent:
instant need.
noting a food or beverage requiring a minimal amount of time and effort to prepare, as by heating or the addition of milk or water, before being served or used:
instant coffee; instant pudding.
occurring, done, or prepared with a minimal amount of time and effort; produced rapidly and with little preparation:
an instant book; instant answers; instant history.
designed to act or produce results quickly or immediately:
an instant lottery.
Older Use
. of the present month:
your letter of the 12th instant.
present; current:
the instant case before the court.

In some cases there, instantaneous and instant are not interchangeable. I’m not sure I’d like to drink instantaneous coffee. 

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A few weeks ago I posted about the following sentence which I spotted in the preface to Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage:

A number of common spelling problems are also discussed briefly. While the emphasis of this work is on usage in writing, a small number of articles is devoted to problems of pronunciation.

(note: “A number … are”, but “a small number … is”.) I emailed the esteemed Geoffrey Pullum about this, and he wrote about it on the Lingua Franca blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education

His most recent article for Lingua Franca is about the south-eastern Indian language Telugu being the fastest-growing language in the USA, mostly because of the high number of people from that area employed in the IT industry, including the chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella. He cites an article in Quartz India, and quotes the following sentence:

A slew of Telugu workers in the US has been shot dead in various incidents, from hate crimes to robbery attempts.

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Is it “wrong”? If so, why?

A few days ago my class was doing a activity based on prompts like “I like …”, “ I spend time …” and “I am good …”, with various variations. There is a small number of ways in which each of these can be completed, so I started by eliciting some of the most common.

One student completed the prompt “I’m quite good …” with “at nothing”. This flummoxed me. I can’t think of any reason why “I’m quite good at nothing” (and “I’m very good at nothing”) aren’t possible, but no-one has ever said or written them where Google can find them. It is possible to say “I’m good at nothing”, though “I’m not good at anything” has overtaken it in the last 90 years. “I’m not quite good at anything” is also non-existent, while “I’m not very good at anything” has a different meaning – “I’m good at many things, but not very good at anything”.

It was impossible for me to explain why “I’m very good at nothing” was ‘wrong’ (if indeed it was). I tried to accentuate the positive and find something – anything – she is good at, but her English is limited. I eventually said “Are you good at [her language]”. She brightened and said “Yes”. Continue reading