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September 18, 2003

To C or Not to C

You may have noticed it already and chalked it up as a misprint. But the English spelling of Korea - or Corea - is currently being taken quite seriously. Scholars from both north and south of the 38th parallel are united, for once, in their fight to reject a spelling that they say was imposed by imperialist Japanese at the beginning of the 20th century. Evidence certainly seems to support this claim, such as the cornerstone of the British embassy in Seoul laid in 1890 with the name "Corea." So far no official record of the change has been found but it's believed that Japan, which controlled Korea for four years before officially colonizing the country from 1910-45, changed the spelling for the 1908 London Olympics to ensure that "Korean" athletes would appear after their own. North Korea has enthusiastically taken up the cause, referring to the current spelling as "a never-to-be-condoned, state-sponsored crime." But the practical implications of an official spelling change mean that the South Korean government is unlikely to pursue the issue too seriously.

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