Water depth risk safety

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Photograph of a sign taken by Boris Kootzenko on a recent trip to China:

The Chinese says:

shuǐshēn wéixiǎn 水深危险 ("danger! deep water")

zhùyì ānquán 注意安全 ("pay attention to safety")

The English is what it is.

According to Haewon Cho, the Korean says:

1) 수심(水深)이 깊다 (susimi gipda) Literally, the depth of water is deep.

2) 위험 (危險) (wiheom) Danger

3) 안전(全)에 주의(注意)하세요 (anjeone juuihaseyo)  Pay attention to safety.

(Hanja added for the convenience of those who are familiar with Chinese characters)

The sign is already weird because 2) is just one word. In addition, the ending used in 1) is inappropriate. In Korean grammar, it is very important to choose an appropriate sentence ending to express formality and politeness. In sentence 1), the plain style ending was used, but descriptive verbs (adjectives) in plain style are typically used in exclamations or assertions in speaking, and are not used in public signs because they are not polite.

So the sign would work better if it said:

수심이 깊습니다 (susimi gipseubnida) The depth of water is deep (literal translation). –> The water is deep.

안전에 주의하세요 (anjeone) juuihaseyo) Be careful with (your) safety –> Pay attention to safety

It's hard to say which aspect of this sign is eerier:  the lighting or the wording.


  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 9, 2017 @ 1:51 pm

    Sounds as if Korean has something similar to such English phrases as "cold temperature" and "fast speed", which are deprecated by some (including me).

  2. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 9, 2017 @ 4:27 pm

    I can see the headline now: "Water depth risk safety sign enigma"

  3. David L said,

    February 9, 2017 @ 4:38 pm

    "fast speed"

    The correct phrase, of course, is "high rate of speed."

  4. jick said,

    February 9, 2017 @ 4:38 pm

    "수심이 깊다" would be a perfectly good Korean sentence if it appeared in a book. Yes, it literally translates to "the depth of water is deep", but there aren't any other good adjective to go with 수심.

    What are we gonna say, "수심이 크다" (the depth of water is big)? (Actually, that will mostly likely be interpreted as another word with the same sound: "The worrying mind is big," i.e., "[I] am deeply worried.")

    Or "수심이 높다" (…is high)? That will confuse the hell out of everyone!

  5. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 9, 2017 @ 5:17 pm

    Well, the Korean uses an SK and a native word (I think?) so not so redundant as "depth is deep," probably. "High altitude"-ish? Which is fine…

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 9, 2017 @ 7:28 pm

    jick: I'm not being prescriptive about Korean! Of course, in English we say, "The water is deep." Among the infinite number of things I don't know about Korean is why there's nothing analogous to that (I take it).

    In English we can say "great depth" and "considerable depth" and probably some others that I'm not going to try to think of right now.

    Jonathan Smith: I agree that "high altitude" and "high elevation" are exceptions to that prescription. I don't know how that happened.

    David L: So true.

  7. Su-Chong Lim said,

    February 10, 2017 @ 1:03 am

    The abruptness of the Korean admonition to be careful of the dangerous deep water merely displays ignorance of Korean sensibilities in courteously warning of danger. It appears to be no better or no worse than the displayed unfamiliarity with colloquial English or perhaps, should we say "Sign-English"?

    BTW, I have always had trouble with the English phrase "rate of speed", which, apparently is perfectly good legalese, because it was used against me once in traffic court many years ago. My problem involves the word "rate", which is a mathematical construct for quantity x over quantity y, with quantity y usually being time. In calculus terminology I believe it would be the first derivative of x. My point is that speed is, in mathematical convention, the rate of travel or displacement, that is, distance over time. So speed is already a rate. Therefore the rate of speed actually is a measure of change of speed over time, which anyone familiar with elementary mathematics would recognize as the construct for acceleration. I prudently held my tongue, though, so as not to further the judge.

  8. Su-Chong Lim said,

    February 10, 2017 @ 1:06 am

    Ah, I meant to type "so as not to further annoy the judge".

  9. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 10, 2017 @ 6:07 am

    "Fast speed" and "high rate of speed" strike me as about equally objectionable, but the former has the virtue of brevity.

    (What'd I actually say is, of course, "high speed".)

  10. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 10, 2017 @ 6:10 am

    I might also mention that in my native Swedish, hög höjd, lit. "high height", is a perfectly normal way of saying "high altitude", but **djupt djup "deep depth" doesn't work for "great depth".

  11. Francis Boyle said,

    February 10, 2017 @ 10:33 am

    Jerry Friedman: It's probably significant that (cognates notwithstanding) 'altitude' unlike 'height' and 'depth' has no corresponding adjective that select a direction along the axis of measurement (i.e. you can't call a mountain 'altitudy' and if you could it might just as well men low).

  12. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 10, 2017 @ 1:04 pm

    For those objecting to "fast speed": how do you feel about "slow speed"? A Google search for "slow-speed chase" turns up around 43,000 hits (many of them relating to O.J Simpson). For comparison, "low-speed chase" gets around 64,000 hits.

  13. BZ said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 12:34 pm

    The English is at least readily understandable, and with a little rearranging and adding in words that non-native speakers often miss we get "water depth is a safety risk" which is exactly what they wanted to say.

  14. Silas S. Brown said,

    February 20, 2017 @ 7:46 am

    The National Academy for Educational Research (Taiwan) have a dictionary website which says 水深 is "water depth" and 危險 (=危险) is "risk", see http://terms.naer.edu.tw/detail/2545195/ and http://terms.naer.edu.tw/detail/967505/ so I wonder if the writers of that sign had a dictionary that obtained its data from the same place as NAER's did. That wouldn't account for the disappearance of a literal translation of 注意 zhùyì though.

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