USS Pueblo (AGER-2) - Wikipedia

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher was psychologically tortured, including being put through a mock firing squad in an effort to make him confess. Eventually the North Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him, and Bucher relented and agreed to "confess to his and the crew's transgression." Bucher wrote the confession since a "confession" by definition needed to be written by the confessor himself. They verified the meaning of what he wrote, but failed to catch the pun when he said "We paean the DPRK [North Korea]. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung".[26] (Bucher pronounced "paean" as "pee on.")[27]

  1. Although CDR Bucher made this pun back in 1968, didn't North Koreans know or have Anglophones who've caught this pun? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "paean" is a noun and verb. But as a verb, it's "poetic. Now rare." Also, it doesn't make sense in the context of Bucher's sentence.

  2. Why didn't they catch this pun after CDR Bucher pronounced "paean" as "pee on"?

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    We would first have to find original text of his "confession" . It is possible that Bucher embellished story to portray himself as more heroic, since he and his ship were captured rather unceremoniously and he was threatened with court martial. On the other hand, North Koreans probably had people trained in classical literary English, not slang. Since they could not send their English scholars to English speaking countries, they somehow lost connection with live spoken language in US.
    – rs.29
    Sep 7 '20 at 8:12

There are a couple reasons.

The first is that this was an "official" communication, which is to say that it was a written communication. So Commander Bucher chose a very sophisticated but entirely proper word in "paean." If anything, the North Koreans might be flattered by being communicated to in such a sophisticated way. Certainly, it would pass the test of "the Queen's English."

On the other hand, an English word with a given spelling might be pronounced differently by an American, an Englishman, and an Australian. The North Koreans were aware of this fact and might not have attached any significance to Bucher's "funny" pronunciation. For them, the written word was the key. This partly derives from the following:

A second reason is the fact that Korean has many more "homonyms" than western languages. These are words that are spelled and sound alike, but have very different meanings. For instance, in "western" (not Korean) text, the word "pang" could mean either "direction" or "fat." It would then be possible to construct a sentence that "We admire the "pang" (direction) of Kim Il Sung." But in the appropriate context, it could also mean, "We admire the "fatness" of Kim Il Sung.

In another "confession" Bucher admitted to either "violating" or "penetrating" North Korean waters. The North Korans reasonably took that as an admission that he had, in fact, "invaded" North Korean waters. But Bucher intended his remarks to mean that he had "raped" them. Just as he "paeaned" them.


I wouldn't have gotten it either. Took me a while to get it after seeing the joke. Born in Romania, lived 20-ish years in Canada. Canadian citizen.

One reason is that the English pronounciation is not the Greek/Latin pronunciation (different vowels).

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