The word veteran comes from the Latin root vetus, which means “old”. Other interesting words that share its etymology include inveterate, veteranize, and the obsolete (but cool) veterascent.
This past Tuesday, Americans celebrated Veterans Day and the rest of the world celebrated Armistice/Remembrance Day. I had the day off for the first time in six years, having gone to a vaguely Quaker-affiliated private school that ignored most national public holidays and then left the country for two years. So out of touch was I that I had forgotten why Veterans Day exists or what Americans typically do to commemorate it.
To put it briefly, November 11th, 1918 marked the end of World War I, and Americans use the anniversary to specially recognize war veterans. I have a feeling that Veterans Day can be easily confused with “V-Day”, which, among many significations, for many European countries stands for Victory Day, or the end of World War II (on May 8th, 1945).
Then there’s D-Day, which is not a holiday, but usually refers to the Normandy landings during World War II. Actually, D-Day is a general term for the day when any military operation is to begin. The “D” does not really stand for anything at all, yet on its own, it manages to carry an intimidating weightiness. This unique combination of abstract meaning and lexical meaninglessness is probably what led to D-Day being appropriated by Korean high school students to refer to the infamous college entrance exam, the 수능 [ˈsu.nɨŋ].
Korea’s “College Scholastic Ability Test“1 , offered once a year, is taken by hundreds of thousands of students hoping for a score good enough to land them a coveted spot at a top-tier university. Their score on this exam is the primary criterion for acceptance, so students spend years preparing for it. We’re talking twelve-hour school days, nighttime cram schools, and a fascinating culture of superstition growing up around one critical day: D-Day. That was November 13th this year, which explains why the popular posts coming up on my news feed earlier this week alternated between friends saluting their loved ones in the armed services and fellow 원어민 선생님s2 wishing their students good luck on the big exam. I know a few of my old students took it, too, and I hope they did well!
The last of the special days I’ve paused to consider recently is Korea’s Pepero Day (Pocky Day in Japan), a completely manufactured “holiday” in which couples and friends give each other the long, chocolate-coated cracker snack called Pepero. The only reason they do this, I surmise, is that the date (11/11) looks like pairs of Pepero sticks3. While the entire idea strikes me as vapidly cute, I didn’t complain last year when some of my students gave me little boxes of Pepero!
Ah, thinking about my old students and my time in Korea makes me nostalgic. It seems like such a long time ago, and when I dwell on it, I really do feel, how do I say it… veterascent.
(Before I forget, I thought I’d mention what I did on my day off, besides sleep in: folks from the linguistics department got together for an afternoon barbecue. I had a great time, but I didn’t do anything particularly patriotic.)
What is your favorite holiday, common or obscure?
Word of the Day: videlicet, from Latin videre (“to see”) and licet (“permissible”), a word used to specify an examplar of the point one is trying to make. It is commonly shortened to viz. in academic literature, and even more commonly replaced with “namely” or “that is to say”. I don’t need an excuse to buy and eat cheap, chocolate-covered cookie sticks, but many people prefer their consumerist behavior to be warranted by a so-called holiday, videlicet, Pepero Day — hence the annual spike in early November sales.
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