I.SEOUL.U

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The city of Seoul, South Korea, has a new slogan.  This is what it looks like:

In some versions (e.g., see the illustration in the Quartz article cited below), the "U" of "SEOUL" has a horizontal bar running across the center of the letter, but not extending beyond its edges.  This barred "U" is usually not present in images of the slogan available online.

This article in Quartz by Euny Hong, "Korea's newest slogan is Seoul stupid" (11/11/15), is typical of the response from many quarters.

Korean friends have told me that many Koreans hate this slogan and are embarrassed by it.  Here's a typical example of communications I have received:

The English just doesn't make any sense at all, and the Koreans are not that naive to believe this will make any sense to people around the world. A huge mockery went on about this slogan online. One very good, yet sad, example of how incompetent bureaucrats are wasting taxpayers' money.

Of course, Seoul city officials do claim that it might seem awkward and will receive some resistance at first, but they are optimistic that eventually it will "sell." I do agree this will sell and will become probably the most famous slogan in Korea history because of its nonsense and stupidity.

Ben Zimmer comments:

Interesting if misguided sloganeering! I'm curious about how it plays off the old "I ♥ X" snowclone, which has been expanded to "I [shape] X".

Ben talks about the further expansion to "I [word] X" here: "'Get Your Geek On' at Public Libraries" (11/19/10).

The Hangul underneath the slogan at the top of the shaded block is supposed to mean "My Seoul and your Seoul":  nawa neoui Seoul 나와 너의 서울 (lit: 나 (I) 와  (and) 너 (you) 의 (possessive marker) 서울 Seoul.

Some people interpret the Korean below the slogan as "Yours and my Seoul" or "The Seoul of yours and mine" and suggest that's probably what the slogan is supposed to mean.

The vertical Hangul at the bottom left is simply the two syllables for "Seoul".

One Korean friend opines:

The O with a little vertical line extending upward resembles a Korean graph, "o" [for example, ㅇ for 아] in modern times and it's written many times using calligraphy, and the U with a cross bar is ㅂ in Korean.

As Bob Ramsey explains the "O" with a doohickey sticking up:

…that circle with the tick on top is the letter that serves a dual function in Hangul today: a "zero consonant" in initial position and a velar nasal at the end of a syllable.  (It's a conflation of two consonant letters of Sejong's original alphabet, (1) a "zero symbol", a circle used in initial position of a vowel-initial syllable to preserve the canonical syllabic shape; and (2) a letter with a longer tick on top used to write a velar nasal.) Here of course the letter has no meaning or function except graphically, I suppose.

Another colleague explains the "O" with a short vertical line at the top thus:

The ㅇin the word Seㅇul is in fact the Korean letter ㅇ.  ㅇ is a consonant but, in the initial position of the syllable, it is not pronounced and is used as a place holder since a Korean syllable is constructed with one vowel and one consonant. In the final position of the syllable, it is pronounced as the velar nasal sound which is similar to the English "ng" sound as in sing.

There's much more that has been said about the design of the slogan here, including that:

The letter "O" in "SEOUL" is expressed as the Korean letter "ㅇ," illustrating the pride of Koreans and highlighting Seoul's coexistence with the rest of the world. The Korean letter "ㅇ" is also the same shape as the traditional Korean door handle. Therefore, it also suggests that "you and I knock on the door to Seoul and walk in together."

That's pushing the "O" pretty far and a bit too hard, I should think.

Bob explains further the background for how this slogan was chosen:

There were two other slogan candidates the Seoul Metropolitan government was considering:  "Seoulmate" and "SEOULing", to replace its current slogan "Hi Seoul." The government had held a slogan contest, which was won by a Korean philosophy student. There were apparently 16,000 submissions, and the winning slogan was selected by a panel of "experts". I'm not sure how these experts were selected, but it was reported that there was only one (native) speaker of English among them. Needless to say, that's how things are done usually.

According to this article in The Korea Times, the slogan is deliberately vague, so that people can interpret it in many different ways.  As a Korean friend said to me:

Like many other people, I am not sure what "I Seoul U" exactly means, but according to Mayor Park, the new logo was deliberately designed this way to give room for interpretation because "he believes it is better to leave the interpretation open to the public rather than try to define the meaning."

Comment by another Korean friend:

I saw online that it is intended to mean that there is a Seoul between I and U, standing in other words for "our Seoul." The 'translation' underneath the slogan in the image says (literally) "my and your Seoul".

When I first saw it, I thought it was inspired by the slogan of NYC (I heart NY), but with the twist of making the city the verb. But this would rely on the reader knowing the NY slogan – quite intertextual.

Personally, I think it's a bit too cryptic.

I may well have missed it somewhere in the articles that I read, but — as soon as I saw the slogan — I immediately thought that the "SEOUL" of "I.SEOUL.U" was clearly a pun for "soul".  This, then, would be echoing "I ♥ You", but doing it one better by saying, in essence, "I heart and soul you".  In that respect, I think it's not bad.

[Thanks to Haewon Cho, Ross King, Sungshin Kim, and Daniel Sou]



20 Comments

  1. David Morris said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 5:24 pm

    '"Yours and my Seoul" or "The Seoul of yours and mine"'

    I would more naturally say 'your and my Seoul'. For "The Seoul of yours and mine", I am trapped between thinking "The Seoul of you and me [individually]" and "The Seoul of your[ family and friends] and m[y family and friends]" (cf 'best wishes to you and yours'.)

    I am in a regional city and rarely see the national news. I hadn't seen this.

  2. Rubrick said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 7:05 pm

    Perhaps they chose that slogan because it was the Seoul entry.

  3. Laura Morland said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 7:59 pm

    @Rubrick —

    You gave me my biggest laugh of the day. Well done.

    @Victor Mair —

    Yes, it seems that the "sole" native English speaker should have explained to the other "experts" anglophones would naturally read the word between "I" and "U" as a verb. (Or maybe she or he did, and they didn't care?)

  4. KWillets said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 8:33 pm

    I think it's derived from the fairly common phrase

    나와 너의 사이
    me and you [possessive] [relationship, betweenness]

    That is, 서울 "Seoul" is substituted for 사이 "betweenness", and it segues into the "I [heart] you" slogan in English, where "Seoul" is between the two pronouns. In other words the city is a shared experience or a basis for connecting.

    The meaning of "I [Namsan Tower] you" is open to speculation.

  5. Jeff W said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 8:50 pm

    The best I could come up with is that, given the periods, it's not meant to be like "I ♥ NY" but it's something more like "You. Me. New York" In other words, "Seoul" isn't acting as a verb—it's something that is experienced by "you" and "me." That is sort of along the lines of the translation of the Korean "The Seoul of yours and mine." That it evokes "I ♥ NY" or that Seoul sounds like "soul" is incidental. (I am guessing that the whole Seoul/soul thing is viewed as having been played out by now—one of the other two choices "Seoulmates" came in last place.)

    If that interpretation or something like it is what was intended, I wouldn't say the slogan was awful or even meaningless. I'd say it misses the mark—you can't easily discern what is intended.

    [KWillets's comment—"the city is a shared experience or a basis for connecting"—which I read as I finished drafting mine, seems similar but gives a much more informed explanation.)

  6. KWillets said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 9:35 pm

    There appear to be some explanations in Korean that resemble my argument; Seoul stands for "mutual coexistence" or connections by its citizens with each other or the rest of the world.

    https://brunch.co.kr/@seoul/26

  7. J. Goard said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 11:00 pm

    Don't think this is part of the intent, but doesn't anybody think that the (standard Korean) pronunciation of "Seoul" sounds quite a bit like some English dialectal pronunciations of "saw"?

  8. tangent said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 11:15 pm

    I read it as a pun on "I Saw You", with reference to personal ads.
    http://personals.thestranger.com/gyrobase/Personals/ISawYou

  9. Andrej said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 1:23 am

    Why do people even get worked up about this? English is becoming a global lingua franca and therefore it's quite natural that users of the language (the lingua franca version, that is) emancipate themselves from particular usage rules in far-away countries which happen to have that language as their native language. This slogan is not targeted at native English speakers in particular, I'd say, it's targeted at visitors to Seoul, a minority of which are native English speakers. The 95% of the world who don't have English as their native tongue can't make themselves dependend on native English speakers all the time. I understand that native English speakers would want that (indignant comments like "There were apparently 16,000 submissions, and the winning slogan was selected by a panel of 'experts'. I'm not sure how these experts were selected, but it was reported that there was only one (native) speaker of English among them. Needless to say, that's how things are done usually." speak to that mindset…), but it's neither realistic nor fair.

  10. J. Goard said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 3:56 am

    Awesome! I wasn't the only one.

  11. Usually Dainichi said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 8:59 am

    Regarding "Yours and my Seoul" etc, this seems to be one of those things you just can't express well in certain languages. Any of the "correct" options feel like they lack "you and me" as a constituent and therefore feel more like "your Seoul and my Seoul" which has a different structure and (I would argue) meaning.

    In my native Danish, if I try to reach deep within my… ehm… soul, beyond the reach of prescription, I think I like "dig og migs Seoul" (literally "you and me's Seoul") the best. Of course this is prescriptively completely wrong, and I'm not sure if this is possible for other native speakers.

    I can't speak for English, but is "you and me's Seoul" completely impossible? I mean, we already know possessive s is a clitic, right? If "The queen of England's throne" is good, why not "you and me's Seoul"?

  12. Milan said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 11:52 am

    @Usually Dainichi
    What about "The Seoul of you and me". or maybe, changing the exact relation expressed, "Seoul for you and me"

  13. michael farris said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 12:18 pm

    "I can't speak for English, but is "you and me's Seoul" completely impossible?"

    For me (native USEnglish speaker) "yours and my Seoul" would be better, but…. not great (or even good) at all. Or maybe "Seoul – mine and yours".

  14. julie lee said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

    I find this the funniest LLog posted by Victor Mair (next to the hilarious "New word—Devin" blog). Had a good laugh over Seoul Mayor Park's comment that "the new logo was deliberately designed this way to give room for interpretation".

    And just like a philosophy student to think up "I soul/heart you". Yes, inter-textual.

  15. AG said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

    There's a recent model of Kia called the

    "Soul(!)"

    …which according to the ad I saw is pronounced "Soul Exclaim"

  16. AG said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 6:03 pm

    …sorry, I COMPLETELY misspelled that car name – according to Wikipedia it's the

    Soul ("!")

    (pronounced in English as "Soul Exclaim") :)

  17. Jeff W said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 10:01 pm

    J. Goard

    …doesn't anybody think that the (standard Korean) pronunciation of "Seoul" sounds quite a bit like some English dialectal pronunciations of "saw"?

    I'm not sure if a sung pronunciation counts (perhaps not) but here's (most of) the Korean vocal group Sweet Sorrow in a 2012 performance (exactly three years ago, in fact) on Immortal Songs 2, singing, in their usual irrepressible way, Lee Yong's 1982 song "Seoul." They sing the word "서울" ["Seoul"] close to 50 times. People can judge for themselves. (If it doesn't quite answer the question, it's pretty enjoyable nonetheless.)

  18. champacs said,

    November 17, 2015 @ 6:21 am

    It's better than a slogan in the 1990s which was "Our Seoul" (say it out loud).

  19. Morph O. Logy said,

    November 18, 2015 @ 9:59 am

    First of all, Korea is the world capital of groupthink. As regards the selection process, I think it's important to bear that in mind.

    Second, my Korean is admittedly poor, but isn't the "you" in the slogan pan-mal? Is it appropriate to appeal to visitors using the same form of the pronoun "you" that you would use with a child?

  20. J. Goard said,

    November 19, 2015 @ 12:02 am

    @ Mr. Logy:

    Banmal is widely used in slogans, ads and the like, that are meant to have a light tone and don't have a clear addressee. It's misleading to describe it as the form one would use with a child, since it's also what you'd use with your close (same-age) friends.

    I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a banmal slogan followed my some full-sentence instructions in formal register.

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