Do I got a Lee Kebum?

Below is a guest post by David Morris, a sub-editor and former English language teacher who holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics. David previously wrote for Strong Language about Gofukumachi and other English swears in Japanese words, and about an accidental ‘cunt face’ in The Sound of Music. He writes regularly about language at his blog Never Pure and Rarely Simple.

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Image of Moe, bartender in The Simpsons, picking up the phone in his barA running gag on the TV show The Simpsons has Bart ringing Moe’s tavern and asking for someone with a joke name which contains a double entendre. Moe asks his patrons if that person is present in a way which highlights the double entendre, before realising he’s been pranked again.

One very controversial example has Bart ‘looking for a friend, last name Kebum, first name Lee’. Moe says, ‘Hey guys, do I got a Lee Kebum? C’mon, look at the stools. Is there a Lee Kebum? Somebody check the rear. I know I got a Lee Kebum.’ Barney then quips, ‘Then you probably shouldn’t be handling food!’ Leaky bum, haha.

But Lee could also be the very common Korean family name Lee (이), and Kebum could be one transliteration of the Korean given name 기범.

There are at least three men with the name 이기범. Searching in Korean revealed the coach of the reserve team of the Korean soccer club Daejeon Citizen (wiki page in Korean, transliterated Lee Gi Bum). Searching in English revealed Ki-Bum Lee, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University, and Gi Bum Lee, a technical expert inventor employed by LG Electronics.

The Korean syllable 범 is not ‘bum’, though – it’s closer to ‘bomb’ (Korean doesn’t have the vowel in ‘bum’). But ‘leaky bomb’ doesn’t give rise to as many poo jokes. Some years ago, two prominent Korean politicians had the name Lee Bum-Suk (이범석): the first prime minister (1948–50) and a later foreign minister (1982–83). Wikipedia notes that this name ‘became a source of mirth to Anglophones’. What’s so funny about ‘bomb sock’?

Two years ago, at a Korean university I won’t name, I had a student whose surname I won’t name (because I’ve forgotten) who transliterated his given name 영범 as Young-Bum. I made sure to pronounce it ‘yong-bomb’. It was probably beyond my duties as an English teacher to explain why some other transliteration might have been better. I was also once served at a bank by a Ms Bum, which is also a surname as well as a component of given names.

(Technical digression: the issue is the pronunciation and transliteration of the hangeul letter ㅓ (approximately /ɒ/). There are three major Romanisation systems for hangeul. Revised Romanisation transliterates it eo (Beom-seok), McCune-Reischauer ŏ (Bŏm-Sŏk), and Yale inexplicably as e. The related letter ㅕ is often non-academically transliterated ou (see Young-Bum, above). No common academic system uses u or yu. If English speakers see Beom or Bŏm, they are less likely to say ‘bum’ and make poo jokes.)

But The Simpsons example was not controversial because the ‘joke name’ turned out to be the real Korean name of at least three Korean(-American) men. The episode was a crossover between The Simpsons and Family Guy. Immediately after Bart’s call, Stewie rings the tavern and says to Moe, ‘Your sister’s bein’ raped!’ Many viewers and groups protested the use of rape as a casual punchline.

9 thoughts on “Do I got a Lee Kebum?

  1. Pat Collins August 8, 2018 / 10:21 am

    The previous suggestions for a name for words that appear like swear words in another language did not include any reference to the different languages involved.

    Perseus’ Greek dictionary doesn’t seem to want to search at the moment so my best suggestion for now would be xenocacolex.

    Xeno – foreign

    Caco – bad

    Lex – word, better as more general than -nym (name), -gram (implying written) or -phone (sound). I think it could refer to a spoken or written forms.

    A by-play that came up in my attempt on the Greek dictionary. For some reason we don’t have “lexitheric” in English. λεξιθηρέω was an old Greek word for “hunt after words”.


  2. Patrick Collins August 8, 2018 / 10:49 am

    Or possibly a phuctolex for a word in the same language that could be miscontrued as rude and xenophuctolex as one that is in another language?

    φυκτός (phyktos or phuktos) is an older and poetic form of φευκτός (pheuktos). This meant “to be shunned or escaped, avoidable”. Upsilon (ypsilon?) is usually transliterated as “y” but it could be either, many modern transliterations use “u”.

    I am liking this one more and more as the seconds pass.

    (I reset my cookies for no good reason and so my last post was as Pat, back to the full name now.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Patrick Collins August 8, 2018 / 11:40 am

    I was just on my way out shopping (I have the day off work) and I thought I should just look up one more thing.

    κύντερος (kunteros), as used by Homer in the Iliad, literally meaning “more dog-like” but used for “more shameless, more horrible”.

    I prefer phuctolex, especailly as it is doubly phuctolectic when said by a New Zealander.


  4. Keith August 8, 2018 / 9:48 pm

    Ah, the prank call to a bar…

    I think that it is in Porky’s, that there is a scene where somebody calls the diner, a girl serving behind the counter picks up and the caller asks if his friend Mike Hunt is in there.

    The waitress starts asking “Mike Hunt, has anybody seen Mike Hunt?”

    When the teenage guys in there start snickering, she realises what she has been asking.

    Ah, found it. My memory was not playing tricks on me.


  5. astraya August 9, 2018 / 12:33 pm

    After I submitted this to Stan, I looked for the meaning of 범 in a Korean dictionary. As a word, it means ‘tiger’. But that doesn’t mean it has that same meaning as a surname or part of a given name. My wife (who is Korean) said that the meanings of Korean names vary according the Chinese character it represents.

    There is a photo online of a man who gave his name to the tv news crew as Mike Litoris. This possibly not his real name. There are probably many Michael Hunts though.


    • bughunter October 19, 2018 / 9:24 pm

      Michael Hunt is the name of the Sheriff of Aiken County SC. And yes, he used to go by the diminutive ‘Mike.’

      His original campaign slogan was, and I’m not kidding, “Mike Hunt: Accessible To You”


  6. Steve Bacher August 11, 2018 / 11:33 pm

    You wrote that “The related letter ㅕ is often non-academically transliterated ou (see Young-Bum, above).” Not quite right. That letter is essentially the “y” sound appended to the ㅓ sound, so it would be generally transliterated “yeo” or “yŏ”.

    The only reason you see “you” as in “Young” is to make the spelling correspond to a common English word, and only when using a transliteration scheme with “u” representing the ㅓ sound. This particular spelling is a common practice among Koreans who wish to make their names easier for English speakers to spell.

    And while ㅓmay not be exactly the same as English short u, it’s closer to that sound than to any other, and Korean is one of the few languages other than English to have such a sound as distinct from a normal u sound. Furthermore, Korean spellings of English words with the English short u almost exclusively use ㅓ to represent that sound.

    (Unfortunately, Korean also uses ㅓ to represent the English “er” (vocalic r), so, for example, Burger King could be read equally well in Korean as Bugger King.)

    – seb


  7. astraya August 29, 2018 / 11:19 am

    Steve –
    Thanks for your correction, which I assure you was a slip of the finger rather than lack of knowledge of Korean. The ‘you’ spelling happens most often with 영/young. I have a friend who spells his surname ‘Youn’, but he is 윤 and not 연.


    • Keith August 29, 2018 / 11:57 am

      There is a well-known Korean singer whose name is written in Latin script as Youn Sun Nah, the Youn being written in Korean as 윤.


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