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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A 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.