"Please enter your cock after urinating"

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Posted on imgur:

소변 후 콕크 누르세요

Yale: Sopyen hwu khokkhu nwulusey yo

McCune-Reischauer: Sobyŏn hu k'okk'ŭ nurŭse yo

urination-after cock press-honorific polite

The verb nwulu- means "press; press down on", so the Korean means "press down on the [water / pet-]cock after urinating", i.e., "please flush after urinating".

Here's what a k'okk'ŭ 콕크 looks like.

The notice is not directed at the super absent-minded types who forget to zip up after they've finished piddling, but at the mindless dudes who neglect to flush.

Notice that the reminder is posted above each urinal.

At first I had intended to write a short note about the etymology of the English word "cock" from which Korean k'okk'ŭ 콕크 is apparently borrowed, but the situation is so messy (so many different meanings and unclear origins) that I abandoned the thought and decided to leave it to Language Log readers to discuss if they wish.

WARNING:  Do not attempt to send an e-mail with the subject line "cock".  It is liable to get swallowed up by a prudish client.  That happened to me several times today, even though I was not referring to the male member, but to a faucet or valve.

[h.t. Tim Leonard; thanks to Ross King and Haewon Cho]


  1. j2h said,

    April 9, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

    If you look closely at the sign, you can see the word "press" written faintly above "enter". Presumably someone later realised "enter" didn't really convey the meaning they intended, and amended it to aid confused foreigners. Of course, they still saw nothing wrong with the "your cock" part.

  2. Jongseong Park said,

    April 10, 2016 @ 3:45 am

    The form 콕크 kokkeu suggests that it was probably borrowed through the intermediary of Japanese コック kokku rather than directly from English "cock" which would have given 콕 kok (which is the standard form for this meaning as it appears in the dictionary) or 칵 kak. And yes, "cock" does have the meaning of a valve for controlling the flow of water in English, which is the sense retained in both Japanese and Korean.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    April 10, 2016 @ 7:19 am

    This note from a Korean language teacher fits with what Jongseong Park wrote:


    I've never heard the word "코크 (khokh)" before, so I searched it on the Naver online dictionary. It turns out that "코크" (khokh) is a misspelled version of "콕" (khok), which seems to be a lever that controls the amount of water/air in a valve.


  4. Victor Mair said,

    April 10, 2016 @ 6:37 pm

    If you look at the valve on the urinal at the bottom right of the picture, it is indeed of the type that needs to be "press[ed]", as j2h mentioned was written faintly on the sign in the first comment to this post. As for how the person who wrote the English came up with "enter" for "press", they were probably thinking of something like "push in" as an equivalent of "press", and that led them to "enter".

  5. Rodger C said,

    April 11, 2016 @ 6:46 am

    Or perhaps it's due to an association with computers.

  6. Lee said,

    April 11, 2016 @ 11:02 am

    So many people forget that you can't translate things literally. After all, language is culture.

  7. Jongseong Park said,

    April 11, 2016 @ 5:27 pm

    Final voiceless stops like /k, t, p/ in loanwords can be treated a number of different ways in Korean. One seemingly obvious way would be to match them directly to the Korean syllable codas [k, t, p]. Because of various coda neutralizations in Korean, this corresponds to ㄱ, ㅅ, ㅂ /ɡ, z̥ʰ, b/ (I'm using an idiosyncratic symbol /z̥ʰ/ for ㅅ, which is usually romanized s). So /ak, at, ap/ could be written 악 ak {ag}, 앗 at {as}, and 압 ap {ab} respectively. But this is not the default method for a number of reasons.

    In Korean, as in many other unrelated languages of the region (Sinitic, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay) syllable codas obligatorily have no audible release. English final stops may also have no audible release in many situations, but this is not obligatory as it is in Korean. The audible burst of final stops in other languages may sound quite prominent to Korean speakers, who would resyllabify this with an epenthetic 으 eu /ɯ/ to write 아크 akeu /a.kʰɯ/, 아트 ateu /a.tʰɯ/, and 아프 apeu /a.pʰɯ/ respectively.

    Moreover, Korean does not allow consonant clusters as codas, so in these cases, the epenthetic 으 eu /ɯ/ is unavoidable. Consider 잉크 ingkeu /iŋ.kʰɯ/ "ink", 컬트 keolteu /kʰʌl.tʰɯ/ "cult", and 펌프 peompeu /pʰʌm.pʰɯ/ "pump". There is no way of representing the final stops in English as Korean syllable codas.

    Standard Loanword Transcription Rules (외래어 표기법 Oerae-eo Pyogibeop) therefore limit the use of Korean syllable codas in transcribing word-final voiceless stops to the transcription of Thai, Vietnamese, Malay-ndonesian languages, and to limited cases in the transcription of English and Dutch. In English, word-final voiceless stops are to be transcribed as Korean syllable codas if it is preceded by a short vowel (in the traditional Received Pronunciation). Thus "cock" /ˈkɒk/ becomes 콕 kok /kʰok/ while "cork" /ˈkɔːrk/ or "caulk" /ˈkɔːk/ becomes 코크 kokeu /kʰo.kʰɯ/. At least, that is the theory. In reality, exceptions abound. Historically at least, there seems to have been a tendency to avoid producing a monosyllabic word, especially when the original coda was /t/. So you have 세트 seteu and 셋 set coexisting for "set", 네트 neteu and 넷 net for "net", and 커트 keoteu and 컷 keot for "cut", with different forms used in different situations. For the /t/ coda, the apparent mismatch in spelling between the canonical ㅅ /z̥ʰ/ underlying form of the Korean coda (even if surfaces as [t]) and the intended sound may also favour the addition of an epenthetic vowel. The common exceptions have been accepted as standard even if they don't follow the official rules.

    Outside of copy editors, Koreans generally don't know about the rules of when to write final voiceless stops in loanwords as Korean syllable codas and when to add an epenthetic vowel. They usually go by the form they are familiar with the most, and for many of them, the different solutions are almost in free variation. So for "cake", one might even see the standard 케이크 keikeu and the non-standard 케익 keik or 케잌 keik (with the coda written as ㅋ k instead of canonical ㄱ g in the latter) in the writings of the same individual.

    What I find interesting about the Korean language teacher quoted in the third comment is that subconsciously or not, he or she immediately normalized 콕크 kokkeu as 코크 kokeu. Indeed, the form 콕크 kokkeu with the gemination in addition to the epenthetic vowel is not permissible under the Loanword Transcription Rules, and is only really explicable as the influence of Japanese コック kokku as I stated above, or by analogy with similar examples. From the same comment, we could also note the ad hoc romanization of 코크 kokeu as "khokh" and 콕 kok as "khok", showing that the epenthetic vowel of the former is perceived to correspond not to a vowel but to a release burst expressed graphically as "kh" instead of "k".

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