But in social media terms, 2002 and 1988 are pre-historic. Now, Koreans are among the world’s heaviest users of social media. One messaging app, KakaoTalk, reportedly sees 7 billion messages a day.  This in a country with only 50 million people.

Korea’s social networks and blogs were abuzz with comments from Koreans such as “It makes no sense and it sounds really juvenile.” (link in Korean)

Twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable to run this headline from the Nov. 10 edition of the Joong-Ang daily: “No one knows what I.Seoul.U means, so why be so stubborn about keeping it?” (link in Korean)

Seoul mayor Park Won-soon has proven inflexible about retaining “I.Seoul.U”. At a press luncheon on Nov. 9, according to the Korea Herald, Park defended the slogan by randomly throwing India under the bus:

[Park said] ”[For example], the slogan “Incredible India” is a great one, but because its meaning is unchangeable, it can only be used for a short time.

“On the other hand, ‘I.Seoul.U’ can mean anything.”

So the beauty of the slogan, in the mayor’s eyes, is that it is meaningless. Great. Then again, given Korea’s past adventures in trying to create meaningful English phrases, maybe a slogan devoid of meaning is an improvement?

But really, I have zero tolerance for idiomatic errors in translation. I’m not sure why, given that everyone makes these kinds of mistakes. There’s this one cafe in Paris where they menu appears in both French and English, and the English translation offered such howlers as “Shrimp stuffed lawyer,” because the word “avocat” in French means both avocado and lawyer.

Americans do it too, in a big way. A family friend was an L.A.-based child actor who appeared on M*A*S*H as a Korean orphan. The director essentially told him to make up fake Korean words because the real ones didn’t sound Korean enough.

Americans don’t care about European languages either, not even Fortune 500 companies like FedEx. This poster in my local FedEx branch in Boston, which advertises small business solutions, makes me very upset. It depicts a mom and pop type French restaurant called “Bistro de Artiste.” By which they probably mean Bistro des Artistes. It’s the type of subtle error that makes the difference between a French-seeming restaurant and one that was named by a first-year high school French student who didn’t pay attention in class:

This restaurant looks really bad, to boot.
This restaurant looks really bad, to boot.
Image: Euny Hong

Every nation has a blind spot that manifests itself in its attitudes toward other languages. America’s Achilles’ heel is its “America, Fuck Yeah!”–other cultures don’t matter (the same mentality that gives rise to racist Halloween costumes). The French are known for their sense of national exceptionalism, and mistakes in English often go unchecked because Parisians don’t care about tourist revenue enough to give a toss about what foreigners think of them.

For Korea, at least on an individual, day-to-day level, their perpetual and repeated flaw is that the emperor keeps buying invisible clothes, and his minions respond by turning the whole shoreline into a gigantic nudist beach.

Whoever is responsible for this slogan: I will find you and I will Seoul you.

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