A series of unfortunate events

Tuesday, 5 October 2004 — 1:47pm

Lest the title of this post be misleading: no, this self-proclaimed aficionado of children’s literature has not gotten around to Lemony Snicket. It’s high up on my list, I swear. Until then, I must hang my head in shame.

But speaking of hanging heads in shame, or just hangings in general, let’s see what’s happening in Jung-Suk-land, as today marks a temporal convergence of sorts. There is a staggering simultaneity between the times when the Gateway (and by induction, my piece on Mr. Ryu) went to press last night, and the appearance of a more verbose apology on his campaign website. As someone who has a lot of interest in linguistics and none of the expertise, I find it interesting that he is sticking to this story:

Furthermore, I would like to explain to readers that I did refer to a lady as a “grandmother” at a recent forum with regards to drainage issues. I have no living grandparents. But it is not unusual for me to refer to seniors as “grandparents.” Over the past several years, I have been involved with different seniors groups and residences, and I have referred to these friends as “grandparents” – not simply because it is a cultural duty, but because I would not be able to find another appropriate term otherwise.

In some Asian languages – well, okay, in the one that I am familiar with, that being the Cantonese dialect (i.e. Shaolin Soccer and Infernal Affairs Chinese, not Hero or Crouching Tiger Chinese) – the equivalent term for a relationship of the sort we normally refer to as a “family friend” is the same as the word for “aunt” or “uncle.” You sometimes see this in English as well as a sign of respect, but this is especially and consistently the case when it is translated from another language where “aunt” or “uncle” is by itself the primary signifier, free of any biological connotation.

In the context of something official, though, people – and certainly politicians who tread as carefully as they should – are clear about the distinction. Aunt Marge, one would explain, is not my real aunt, but merely my foster father’s sister whom I managed to blow up one fine evening in Privet Drive. It is plausible that Jung-Suk’s “grandmother” reference was along the same lines, only he failed to make a clarification that was rather obvious in its necessity. Now, I don’t have what Jung-Suk said at that drainage session verbatim, so I can’t comment any further, but if any of you are familiar with any similar idiomatic quirks derived from Korean, point them out.

Of course, maybe this isn’t anything Korean but something that Jung-Suk came up with on his own – and if that be the case, I wonder what my veritable posse of Scrabble grandmothers would have to say about it. For now, I present this theory: Jung-Suk was referring to an entity along the lines of Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas – hence the reference to flood damage.

Spencer Keys, himself no slouch as an independent underdog candidate, has a few sound words to say about that apology.

But we should all remember, this week more than any other, that something as trivial as a municipal election has little to no bearing on anything. This, on the other hand, is real news.


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