[HEUNGBO'S GOURD]Slogans part of our past, future

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[HEUNGBO'S GOURD]Slogans part of our past, future

One of the first things that struck me when I came to Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer back in the late 60s was that there were slogans posted everywhere. You'd see them not only on and in government buildings and schools but even along the streets. The public health center I worked in had them over the doors, over our desks, on the bulletin boards, and even in the toilets. It gave the impression that the creation, printing, and posting of slogans must be a major industry here, employing a vast work force nationwide.

One of the most commonly seen slogans back then, when anything like today's sunshine policy was unthinkable, was "Ban Gong Bang Cheop," meaning "Oppose Communism, Prevent Infiltration." There was also a shorter, more vehement version, "Myeol Gong," which meant "Exterminate Communism."

Besides these brief anticommunist mottoes, there was a tremendous variety of slogans promoting community development, public health, family planning, urban orderliness, better driving habits ?you name it and there was a slogan for it. Many of these were very cleverly worded and took the form of a four-line verse, each line consisting of four syllables. They had a rhythm to them that was like the old Burma Shave signs in the United States, only without the extra "Burma Shave" phrase tacked on the end.

In addition to all these catch- phrases, each year was given a designation by the government, and all government offices, police stations, farmers' cooperatives, and the like bore a placard telling us that this was the year of whatever. One of the ones that sticks with me is "The Year of Uninterrupted Advancement." I remember it because that year all we Peace Corps people were instructed by the Peace Corps office in Seoul to fill out a card with information that might be needed in an emergency. There was a blank that asked for the name of our nearest police station. One volunteer whose command of Korean was a bit shaky had filled in "Year of Uninterrupted Advancement Police Station" when she noticed that all police stations seemed to have the same unwieldy name.

Koreans didn't always take such slogans seriously. Another volunteer who was new to the country asked a Korean co-worker what "Myeol Gong" meant and was told that it was a highly honorific greeting that should be said in a loud voice with the right fist poking the sky. When the boss came in, the volunteer saluted him with a shout of "Exterminate Communism!" proving that Americans are true anticommunists and giving his co-workers the best laugh they'd had in a long time.

"Webster's Word Histories" tells us that the word "slogan" first appeared in Scottish English spelled in various ways including "slughorne" and "slogurn." This goes back to a combination of two Celtic words: "sluagh," meaning "crowd, multitude, army," and "gairm," meaning "shout, cry." In other words, a slogan was originally a rallying cry and usually consisted of a clan name or place name. This would make the cheer "Dae--hanminguk!" a slogan par excellence.

By the 18th century, "slogan" was already being used in one of its more modern meanings, as a word or phrase that stands for an attitude, position, or goal. In our day, a slogan can also be merely an attention-getting device used in advertising and public relations.

Recently the Seoul Metropolitan Government introduced a new slogan that is supposed to fit both of these modern meanings. The catchphrase they selected is "Hi Seoul." No, there's no comma after "Hi" because we're not saying hi to Seoul -- Seoul is apparently saying hi to the world, as is shown by the two yellow armlike appendages that arch upward in a motion of greeting or embracing, turning the red "i" into a little stylized human being with a dot for a head. This is intended to promote Seoul's new, friendly image to the rest of the world, according to the director of the city government's marketing division. Since "hi" sounds like "high," the slogan is also supposed to show the city's potential for rising up the ranks of the world's cities.

At least those slogans of the '60s and '70s promoted very specific goals, which they mentioned directly. You knew what they were after and the position they represented.

In this regard, "Hi Seoul" just does not come up to snuff as a slogan, nor do its accompanying subslogans, "We are Seoulites" and "Dreams@Seoul." As for "I love Seoul," it is an obvious ripoff of New York's old line, which has in any case become a cliche.

I'm not sure that Seoul even needs a slogan, but if City Hall feels it is absolutely necessary, at the very least the city should hire professionals who can create a slogan of world-class quality.


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The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition. His e-mail address is gary@korealore.com.

by Gary Rector

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