Oh, 18!

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Robert Hay writes:

There's a Korean pitcher in the majors named Seung-Hwang Oh who was just traded to the Colorado Rockies. Both his previous uniform numbers, 26 and 22, were already taken, so he got number 18, leading to this realization by Sung Min Kim on Twitter:

The inside joke is that "18" sounds like something else in Korean, as explained by Julio Moreno in "10 Korean Words You SHOULDN’T Directly Translate", Travel World Heritage (5/8/14):


Direct translation: Ship-pal / 십팔

This one is a little tricky as the actual translation is not the problem, but the pronunciation. The number eighteen is pronounced Ship-pal. While a Korean could probably pronounce it correctly, our poor Anglo vocal cords are wired a little differently. Unfortunately, if you say this number with even the slightest error in pronunciation, it sounds an awful lot like the F word in Korean (shi-bal / 씨발). It is actually so similar even amongst Koreans, that ’18’ is often used as slang on chat rooms and video games to replace the F word. Do yourself a favor and avoid the need to say 18 in Korean, it just isn’t worth the risk.

I, for one, would certainly be afraid to say Oh's new number around Koreans.


  1. Michele said,

    July 31, 2018 @ 4:26 pm

    That is hilarious! And reminds me of the time I flew to Fukuoka — where the airport code is FUK. I still have my luggage tag from that trip because how often does one fly to FUK?

    And I'll admit to being worried when Fukudome started playing for the Cubs. I bet the announcers had some training on how to pronounce that! LOL!

  2. Robert Sanders said,

    July 31, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

    Since he will be pitching in a high altitude stadium known for its home run generosity, I suspect that people will be calling out his name and uniform number a lot when he is on the mound.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    July 31, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

    From Bob Ramsey:

    Interesting, but your explanation of the cuss word has it a little wrong, I think. The form should be 씹할 (or at least that’s what I remember hearing on the streets of Seoul).

    That is, the nominal form of ‘fuck’ is 씹; to that noun you add the common verbalizing stem 하- ‘to do, make’ plus the suffix -ㄹ to get the colloquial, vulgar adjectival form 씹할 ‘fucking’, as in 씹할 놈! ‘fucking bastard!’

    I realize that explanation sounds too tight-assed and academic, but I couldn’t help tossing it out because the structure of that all-too-common cuss word is so transparent.

    Anyway, the anecdote made me smile.

  4. Laura Morland said,

    July 31, 2018 @ 9:06 pm

    @Robert Sanders: and if he should hit a homer against (for example) my S.F. Giants, we fans might mutter, "Oh, fuck."

    (Which phrase *could* sound similar to his name and jersey number, if pronounced in bad Korean. ;-)

  5. Ryan said,

    July 31, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

    But why would you "be afraid to say Oh's new number around Koreans"? All languages have words that sound somewhat similar to bad words, so if a native speaker were forgiving of a non-native speaker's flawed pronunciation in the first place, I can't imagine a reaction greater than mild embarrassment. For example, when a foreign actress (I think it was Marion Cotillard) was on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, the host good-naturedly needled her for her pronunciation of "focus" (I think you can guess how she pronounced it).

    And can I comment on how poorly written I find that Travel World Heritage article to be? In regards to #7, Yes (as well as "yeah" and "uh-huh") has a wide range of connotations in English too. And in regards to #2, "“Girl, you are so crazy” is something English speakers would say without thinking twice"? To that I say which speakers?

  6. loonquawl said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 4:08 am

    … just to add to the anecdotes, we had a Romanian visiting researcher, holding a talk in English to a group of Germans that were very preoccupied with covertly pinching their noses and biting their tongues to keep from laughing at his short-vowel interpretation of the word 'spreadsheet' – he used it so prolifically it sometimes even cropped up twice in the same sentence. I have no recollection of the actual content of that talk.

  7. dainichi said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 4:29 am

    So we've got

    십팔 ship-pal
    씨발 sshi-bal
    씹할 sship-hal

    and I'm trying to understand the phonetic differences.

    Firstly, there's the initial plain sibilant "s" versus the tense one "ss", a distinction which I've never quite understood. Some analyze it as having more to do with the tone contour on the following vowel. I was hoping someone could comment.

    Secondly, there's the bilabial stop consonant(s) after the "i". According to what I can piece together from Wikipedia, they're geminated+aspirated [p̚pʰ], voiced [b], and aspirated [pʰ], respectively. If that's accurate, it's an easy difference to understand from at least a Japanese speaker.

    As for the last two, Wiktionary


    lists 씨발 as

    > Medial voicing of 씨팔 (ssipal), which is a calque of English fucking

    As far as I can gather, 씹할 (Bob Ramsey's version, which also seems to be the "correctly spelled" version) is actually pronounced 씨팔, so I guess there are some variant spellings, which doesn't surprise me for this kind of word.

    But what is this "medial voicing"? Is this a common phenomenon in Korean, or is it again a variant arising because the particular nature of this word?

  8. rpsms said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 9:02 am

    I am reminded of he Philadelphia Bimbos Soccer team

  9. Victor Mair said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 9:07 am

    From Bob Ramsey:

    There’s a lot of confusion there; not sure how much of it is from the Wiktionary entry, though.

    First, does the form 씨발 really exist? It would be strange. 십팔 is just ‘18’—which of course is where all of this baseball talk started.

    In any case, geminated+aspirated can’t exist phonologically; two such elements would be reduced to aspirated ㅍ.

    But, yes, 씹할 is simply the correctly spelled equivalent of 씨팔. There are also a lot of other misspellings you can see on the Internet (e.g., 씹팔…).
    NOTE: Hangul orthography is a morphophonemic system, not a phonemic one, which generally means keeping a morpheme’s spelling intact even when the pronunciation changes.

    Oh, maybe the form really is a calque of English ‘fucking’; I had never thought about that before—but, after all, the US military has been around a long time in Korea now, and that’s certainly the way GIs talk!

  10. Don said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 10:08 am

    While my experience with Korean is limited, 씨발 is the only one of these forms that I remember encountering in the wild. It would strike me as unusual to see 씨팔, 씹할, or any of the other variations.

  11. SlideSF said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 2:13 pm

    This seems less noteworthy than a certain Canadian basketball player and his name.


  12. Francois Lang said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

    Then there's a retired Brazilian footballer with an interesting name:


    though not as interesting as the Canadian basketball player.

  13. maidhc said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 5:58 pm

    There's an old burlesque routine about two girls meeting a photographer at the beach that goes something like:
    #1: Should we let him focus first?
    #2: No, let's wait until after he takes the photo.

    So it's a joke that's been around for a long time.

  14. dainichi said,

    August 1, 2018 @ 9:30 pm

    >In any case, geminated+aspirated can’t exist phonologically; two such elements would be reduced to aspirated ㅍ.

    Wiktionary says:
    > The resulting geminate obstruents, such as [k̚k͈], [ss͈], [p̚pʰ], and [t̚tɕʰ] (that is, [k͈ː], [s͈ː], [pʰː], and [tːɕʰ]), tend to reduce ([k͈], [s͈], [pʰ], [tɕʰ]) in rapid conversation.

    so I took that to mean that in non-rapid speech, they don't reduce.

  15. David Morris said,

    August 3, 2018 @ 6:59 pm

    Every textbook I have read gives a different explanation of the Korean tensed consonants. My first thought was that English speakers very rarely pronounce 씨 (or any other of the tensed consonants) authentically enough to be mistaken for the real thing. But then I remembered one student at a Korean hagwon talking about 'parking garages' as a solution to traffic problems. Unfortunately, it sounded like 'fucking garages'. The opposite is more likely to happen – Koreans pronouncing /f/ as /p/. Words like coffee are written and pronounced as ㅍ, and I remember one student telling me that she was studying 'passion' (ie, 'fashion').

  16. David Marjanović said,

    August 6, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

    Firstly, there's the initial plain sibilant "s" versus the tense one "ss", a distinction which I've never quite understood. Some analyze it as having more to do with the tone contour on the following vowel. I was hoping someone could comment.

    I've seen it described as ss being plain [s] (or of course [ɕ] before /i/), while the historically plain s has moved out of the way by becoming [sʰ], one of the world's few aspirated fricatives; presumably it's [ɕʰ] before /i/. I haven't heard enough Korean to comment on any of this myself.

  17. Rodger C said,

    August 6, 2018 @ 4:32 pm

    David M's description of what's happening to Korean "tense s" reminds me of the fact that IE *s gives Brythonic /h/, but *st gives /s/ (e.g. Welsh seren 'star').This is commonly attributed to some mysterious Celtic phoneme from *st, some sort of emphatic fricative or affricate. It may account for the Ogam to which the scribes assigned the value Z.

    At this point, someone will hopefully enter and tell me my scholarship is thirty years out of date.

  18. mg said,

    August 6, 2018 @ 9:07 pm

    To add to the list of sports names, I had a shock the first time I saw the Dodgers player Kike Hernández listed. Apparently his name is sometimes spelled Kiké on US TV broadcasts to disambiguate the pronounciation.

  19. Michele said,

    August 7, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

    @rpsms: "I am reminded of he Philadelphia Bimbos Soccer team"

    Or Bimbo bread!


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