Not exactly wordsmiths, but who’s laughingClearly, many Koreans are cramming as much English into their lives as they possibly can. Their government drafts plans to establish English-speaking zones to attract foreign businesses; parents try to “immerse” their children in the language, presumably so they can get jobs in those English-only towns of the future.
Marketers are getting in on the act, too. Like their American counterparts who splash Chinese ideograms all over their products to increase their hip quotient, Korean businesses love to jazz up their storefronts, ad campaigns and packaging with English words. Any words, in any order. It does not seem to matter if they make sense or not.
On a Sunday afternoon a few years back, on my way to meet my girlfriend (now my wife) at a movie theater in downtown Seoul, the window of a men’s clothing shop caught my eye. “Handmade in Itary,” the sign boasted. Hmm, I wondered, were those suits stitched in “Lome” or “Miran”?
Arriving at the theater, we found that the next showing we could get tickets for did not start for another three hours. So, we decided to go to Fresco, a nearby Western-style restaurant, for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks. I opened up the menu to find that one of the Fresco specialties was “crap spaghetti.”
“I’ve never tried that crustacean,” I said to my friend. “Do you think it tastes anything like logster?” (Don’t feel bad. She didn’t laugh either.)
After killing a couple of hours ― and a few brain cells ― at Fresco, we moseyed toward a video arcade to get in a few rounds of Tetris before the movie. On the way I spotted a billboard advertising SK Telecom’s TTL mobile phone service. “Made in 20,” the sign proclaimed. Twenty what? Seconds? Days? Countries? Colors? What kind of slogan is that?
The following day, a Monday, I walked into my classroom at an English-language institute to find three of my students sitting in a row. One girl was wearing a sweatshirt with the brand name “Spoon” written across the chest. Another had a logo on her shirt that read “Soup.” The last girl was clutching a leather book bag bearing the brand name “Soda.”
“Throw in a corned beef sandwich on rye with extra onions, and I’ll take the whole thing to go,” I said.
They didn’t laugh either.
by Dylan Alford
Mr. Alford teaches at a Seoul high school.