Ko P

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Just in case you hadn't seen this in the news, the winner of the Taipei mayoral election held on November 28, 2014 is Ko Wen-je (Kē Wénzhé 柯文哲), a trauma surgeon who ran as an independent.

"Pro-independence party candidate Ko Wen-je claims victory in Taipei mayor race"
The Straits Times (11/29/14)

Ko has the orthographically interesting nickname of 柯P (also written Ko P or KP), with "kē 柯" being the surname (see definition 3 here) and "P" standing for "professor."  Thus, with two symbols — 柯 and P — we have two languages and two scripts.  As we have seen before on a number of occasions, this mixing of scripts and languages — except for its brevity — is not all that unusual for Taiwan, and not infrequent on the mainland for that matter either.  Here are some relevant Language Log posts, with links to yet other related posts:

"A bilingual, biscriptal product designation in Taiwan"

"Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese"

"Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese, part 2"

[Thanks to Mark Swofford]


  1. Brendan said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 12:18 am

    The word order of "Ko P" is interesting too, since it follows the Chinese order ("Ko Professor") rather than the English ("Professor Ko"). Though given the way mainland internet users substitute letters for characters at times, I'm surprised people associate "P" with "Professor" rather than 屁

  2. Mark Mandel said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 4:26 am

    Ko has the orthographically interesting nickname of 柯P (also written Ko P or KP), with "kē 柯" being the surname (see definition 3 here) and "P" standing for "professor." 

    Definition 3, “”, is not particularly enlightening to me, as I do not read Chinese. Or did you mean the third segment of the last section of the entry?:
    axe-handle; stalk, bough; surname

  3. Keith said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 4:27 am

    @VM: Can you please explain why the name is given both as Ko and as Kē?

    @Brendan: it would be even funnier to add French to the mix.

  4. Richard W said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 5:14 am

    @Mark Mandel: Definition 3 ("姓", pronounced xìng) means "surname". It's just saying that the character 柯 is one that is used as a surname.

  5. Richard W said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 5:50 am

    @Keith: It might be a simplified form of the Wade-Giles romanization of the surname. 柯 is in Pinyin, and K'o in the (older) Wade-Giles system that may have been used by Ko's ancestors to romanize their name. I have a Chinese-English dictionary published in Taiwan in the 1970s that gives the Wade romanization of characters (also bopomofo and GR, but no Pinyin).

  6. Richard W said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 5:54 am

    Sorry, it's K'o 1 in Wade-Giles rather than just K'o.

  7. shubert said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 7:18 am

    柯 is formed by two parts: 木 wood and 可 may. In 5 xing, 木 represents stability, growth (at top), therefore it is 可 possible (to win).

  8. Bob Ladd said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 8:08 am

    @Keith: As Richard W. says, the different spellings are just different romanisations. The problem is that the vowel sound in question is quite unlike any vowel in most European languages, which is why it's not obvious how to romanise it. It's sort of halfway between the vowel of but (not the North of England version of that vowel!) and the vowel of Bert in a non-rhotic accent (e.g. RP, Eastern New England) – and unlike the vowel of but, it can occur without a following consonant, as in the surname Ke.

  9. JS said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    @Bob Ladd
    Though the northern realization of the vowel features a very distictive opening diphthong — parallel to pinyin /uo/ but unrounded and beginning more centrally.

  10. Keith said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

    Thanks to both Richard and Bob.

    I don't speak any of the Sinitic languages, but your explanations along with what I've read explain why I've seen this written as Ko, Kē and as Ker (and I suppose it might also be written as Kih).

  11. shubert said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 8:24 pm

    No Ko but kuo in Pinyin, kuo is pronounced close to quar(tz) I guess.

  12. Jacob said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 8:56 pm

    @shubert You do realize that there are dictionaries in Chinese, right? Some of these dictionaries would include entries for 柯 that have absolutely nothing to do with your fantasy definition and etymology of the character. I'm sure you also know that the vast majority of characters include phonetic elements, e.g. 柯.

  13. shubert said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

    @Jacob 柯, helve, or pasania cuspidata. So, to association with wood is not in vain. For the "possible" part, it is by a stretch but not too absurd if consider it is aspirated initial, which has a trait of a group characters.

  14. Philip L said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

    I just want to point out that the Straits Times headline is in error. Ko ran as an independent.

  15. Richard W said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 9:08 pm

    [Mr. Ko's] political views generally align with the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. […] His campaign has focused on encouraging civic participation and trying to transcend the divide between the Kuomintang and those who favor closer ties with China, and the D.P.P. and others who support an independent Taiwan. […]

    During a televised debate, when asked whether a candidate who had pro-independence leanings could serve as a high-level state official, Mr. Ko responded that it was the “cross-strait compradors,” the Kuomintang officials pursuing closer ties with China, whose patriotism should be questioned.

    New York Times

  16. January First-of-May said,

    December 2, 2014 @ 10:43 am

    Whatever that "2/17/15" date on the first link is, it cannot possibly be a date in the past unless it's almost a century ago.
    What is intended is 2/17/14, obviously.

  17. Richard W said,

    December 2, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

    There's that word "obviously" again :-)

    If you actually follow the link, it takes you to a blog post dated February 7, 2014, i.e. 2/7/14.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    December 2, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

    @January First-of-May @Richard W

    fixed now

  19. Nathan Myers said,

    December 7, 2014 @ 4:16 am

    Does his name match local pronunciation of "coffee"?

  20. Shubert said,

    December 7, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    Coffee is …same as car by them. Ke is close to occur or curse :), while Ko is better but not the original.

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