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A few weeks ago, I hit my 1st anniversary of posting daily examples of mistakes and awkward English on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Most of the examples come from Korea, but there are a few from other countries. My goal in doing this has always remained the same—to educate, not mock.

English is a complex language. That’s why “proofreader” exists as a job. Native English speakers need professional help keeping their copy error-free. Doesn’t it follow that non–native English speakers would also need help? I’ve posted over 365 examples supporting this argument.

One of the errors I constantly see could easily be eliminated from Korea. If Korean sign makers knew the correct term, they could educate clients. They could insist on using the right phrase. If you’ve followed me on Instagram for any time, you’ll know the phrase I’m referring to.

More than a year ago, I held my “Grand Open” on Instagram

The correct phrase is “Grand Opening”—just three extra letters. And that, I suspect, is the culprit behind this error. I have no proof, but I guess one of two things happened:

  1. Signmakers charge by the letter, so Grand Open was cheaper
  2. Opening was shortened to ‘open’ so it would fit better on signs

Regardless of the reason, it’s incorrect. Here are four examples—and I have more in my collection.

Korean sign which reads Grand Open
Grand Open
Sign that says Grand Open with red circle with a line through it superimposed on top of the image.
Grand Open
A picture of an inflatable advertising doll with the words Fitness 101 Grand open written on its chest
Grand Open
Korean sign that says grand open
Grand Open

But I was heartened to see that some businesses take the time to get it right. Hats off to Trek for getting the copy on their ad correct. Chapeau!

Advertisement for Trek Cycling announcing the Grand Opening of its Ilsan branch
Grand Opening—someone got it right!

Another example I see everyday, I mean, every day

This is an error that native speakers make. Again, if native speakers make this mistake, why wouldn’t non-native English speakers? This is precisely why they should use a native English-speaking proofreader.

As previously explained, the easiest way to remember this is that you’d never write:

  • Everyyear
  • Everymonth
  • Everyweek

When you want to convey that something happens each day, time and time again, the correct phrase is “every day”. I post examples of awkward English every day. Some are unusual mistakes. But many of them are everyday examples easily found throughout Korea.

A bag of almonds that contain the phrase Everyday with fresh nuts for your family's health on the packaging
Everyday with fresh nuts for your familys health
Sign on the awning of a chicken restaurant that reads We serve fresh and delicious fried chicken everyday (everyday is written as one word)
We serve fresh and delicious fried Chicken everyday
A pop up banner in a restaurant stating A fine all day Everyday fresh (everday is written as one word)
A Fine all day, Everyday Fresh
I plastic milk bottle with the words Everday great taste organic milk (everyday is written as one word)
Everyday Great Taste

I Seoul U—no, I mean I really Seoul U

Shortly after I started posting daily (i.e. every day), I decided to highlight Korean city slogans each Sunday. It occurred to me that most cities in Korea have English slogans—but most of them are horrible. I can only assume that these cities opted for English slogans to attract tourism. But if your slogan is nonsensical or awkward, it likely won’t have the desired effect.

While analyzing these city slogans, I noticed several trends. The first is to choose a buzzword that is actually an acronym. But in most cases, the buzzword is awkward or poorly suited to describe a city. It’s also usually forced or unnatural.

What does SMART Asan mean?

  • Spring⁠
  • Mankind⁠
  • Art⁠
  • Renovation⁠
  • Technic⁠

Five random words, seemingly forced together. Likely because someone liked the idea of putting the word ‘smart’ in front of their city.

Asan's logo with the phrase Smart Asan
Smart Asan
Gumi's city logo, with the phrase Yes Gumi
Yes Gumi

Is anyone aware that YES Gumi actually stands for:

  • Your City⁠
  • Exciting City
  • Smart City⁠

There’s that word ‘smart’ again. I admit I’m uncertain what a ‘smart city’ is. I actually made this very point in last week’s post on SMART Anyang.

Sangju’s slogan, JUST Sangju, is just bad. 

  • Justice⁠
  • Unlimited⁠
  • Success⁠
  • Together⁠

The first word, justice, seems to be a random inclusion. The final three words appear to be part of the phrase “Unlimited success together.” But as it appears, it’s awkward and uninspiring.

Sangju city's slogan, Just Sangju
Just Sangju
Bucheon's city slogan, Fantasia, written in colorful letters.
Fantasia Bucheon

Fantasia Bucheon seemed like a random word thrown in front of the city name—until I dug deeper. It actually stands for:

  • Fantastic⁠
  • Art⁠
  • New⁠
  • Techno⁠
  • Advanced⁠
  • Symphonious⁠
  • International⁠
  • Area⁠

This time we have eight random words thrown together. What does ‘techno’ mean in reference to a city? Or ‘symphonious’? I suspect they meant harmonious, but they needed a word that started with ‘s’. Either way, not feeling this one at all.

ART Icheon stands for: 

  • Active
  • Rich
  • Top

The most confusing thing about this choice is that the individual words seem unrelated. They actually appear to be in direct opposition to the acronym itself. 

Icheon's logo, Art Icheon
ART Icheon
Chungju city's slogan, Good Chungju. An infinity symbol has replaced the two o's in Good
Good Chungju

Good Chungju is not a good slogan, especially when you learn that GOOD stands for:

  • Great (possibility for development)⁠
  • Opportunity (for success is given)⁠
  • Open (to all businesses)⁠
  • Development (continuously making developments)⁠

So which is it? Is Chungju good or great?

City slogans will rarely be a hit with everyone. I recently had a spirited debate with a friend over “I Seoul U.” I maintain it’s meaningless and awkward. My friend defended it as being open to interpretation. While writing this post, I learned that Seoul city is going to scrap the “I Seoul U” slogan. I can’t say I’m disappointed. Actually, I’m thrilled to see it go!

Korean cities would greatly benefit from consulting at least one native English speaker regarding proposed English city slogans. Doing so wouldn’t guarantee a winning slogan. But it would decrease the possibility of excessively awkward ones. Let’s hope that Seoul follows this advice. BTW, DC CopyPro is available. 🤣

How many f@cking times do I have to tell you?

Swearing in a new language is always fun. It’s one of the first things language learners want to learn. But without a thorough understanding of the nuances of the language, it’s easy to cross a line. The ‘F-word’ is ubiquitous in English movies. It’s easy to see why some might think it’s acceptable to use anywhere, anytime. 

The door to Pancake Epidemic Seoul, with the words Don't Waste Your Fuckin' Time
Pancake Epidemic—don’t waste your fuckin’ time

It’s not. Yet, in Korea, you can easily see the “F-word” and other similarly offensive words clearly on display.

Korean sign for a pub with the English phrase It's so fucking special PUB you don't come, you get pimple
It’s so fucking special PUB you don’t come, you get pimple
A sign in Korea that reads in English, Kasina Don't Waste Your Fuckin Time
kasina—don’t waste your fuckin time
Sign outside a restaurant that says Fucking Delicious
Fucking! Delicious!!
A sign for a Korean restaurant called Shit House
Shit House
A pop up banner in Korea that reads Fucking Strong Coconut Coffee
Fucking Strong Coconut Coffee
Signage on a burger chain that reads We believe that other burgers are shit
We believe other burgers are shit

I can only assume that non-English speakers use such strong curse words for two reasons:

  • out of ignorance (they aren’t aware how offensive these words are) 
  • they’re trying to be edgy

In most countries, there are laws about using profanity in public. Despite its prevalence in movies, you cannot use profanity anywhere you please. I don’t see 꺼져,씨발, or 엿 먹어라 as part of the name of Korean establishments.

You’re not going outside dressed like that, are you?

It also seems quite common to find random curse words on clothing. If you know what your clothing says and choose to make that statement—that’s your call. But several of the examples I’ve seen are on children’s clothing. In these cases, either the parents:

  • weren’t aware of what the English on their kids’ clothes meant
  • weren’t aware of how native English speakers would receive these words

Seeing curse words on clothing or as part of business names reminds me of this clever ad for a language learning institute in the Netherlands. I wonder if it appeared on Dutch TV.

Seeing curse words on clothing reminds me of the recent story involving DJ Soda. She had trouble on a plane in America because she was wearing pants emblazoned with “Fuck you”. She seemed to be under the impression that since a sponsor provided her pants, she was within her rights to wear them. She wasn’t.

I wonder what would happen if I tried to board a plane in Korea with 꺼져,씨발, or 엿 먹어라 emblazoned on my t-shirt. DJ Soda, or any other passenger, would’ve had an issue trying to board that plane wearing those pants.

A t-shirt found in a Korean store with the phrase You Fuck'n Asshole on it
You Fuck’n Asshole
A picture of a young girl (face blurred) wearing a t-shirt that says Anna Fucking Sui
Anna Fucking Sui

These three examples are all definitely worn by children and definitely inappropriate:

A very young girl (face blurred) holding a winter hat that reads Honk if you bonk
Honk if you bonk
A young boy wearing a t-shirt that reads A friend with weed is a friend indeed on the back
A friend with weed is a friend indeed

Lost in translation

Online translation apps and CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools have improved over the years—but they’ve got a long way to go. I’m not sure if people are trying to save money on hiring a professional or if they have blind faith in the quality of these apps. But I’m sure you’ll agree that these translations don’t cut the mustard.

A picture of a sign from a museum with pretty much incomprehensible English, likely the result of using an auto translation
Poor quality translation at a Korean museum
A kiosk screen from a major Korean airport with the phrase I'm Airport and transports the luggage of the weak to the destination
I’m Airport and transports the luggage of the weak to the destination
A Korean sign found in a bathroom which has been translated as Rush the used toilet paper as it is.
Rush the used toiled paper as it is

One of my theories is that English is ‘trendy.’ Thus, people want to include it on their products for the sake of having something in English. This is supported by several examples of random English quotes, often without any context, that appear on signs, shop windows, and clothing.

A t-shirt with the phrase I'm sorry little friend...I was hasty...you're not a duck
I’m sorry little friend…I was hasty…you’re not a duck
A pop up sign in a stationary store that reads Butter this shop will yes funny your life
Butter this shop will yes funny your life
A picture of a cafe window with the phrase I want to be someone who brings happiness to everyone like...
The quote is attributed to Anne of Green Gables
I want to be someone who brings happiness to everyone like— Anne of Green Gables
A picture of a large restaurant window with random English quotes on it
Random English quotes

Stay tuned for Part II in a few weeks…

There are a few other patterns and trends that I’ve noticed, but I’ll save them for Part II of this post. Be sure to check back in a few weeks. I’ll discuss more examples of awkward English I’ve uncovered during the past year of daily posting.

While we wait for Part II, I’m curious to know your thoughts. Why do you think there’s such a prevalence of awkward English on display in Korea? Answer this poll and leave me a comment.

A massive “thank you” to all the people who’ve shared (and continue to share) pics with me to feature in my daily posts. None of this would be possible without you. Photo credits for pictures that aren’t mine are in each linked post. Thanks to Instagram users the.fabulous.coiffure, esltoybox, mochigigglemsbfu, Amanda Mattle, Pahk Hyoungsahm, and all those who wish to remain ‘anonymous’.

Click here to read Part II of this blog post.

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