Monday, June 26, 2017

#49. Well, I was right anyway

I really really like getting into arguments. I like respectful debates where I try to change the other person's perspective, and the other person is doing the same to me. I usually come out having learned something, and my opinion also changes more often than you'd expect.

That being said, I cannot stand getting into an argument without any logic. Unfortunately, online debates, on average, have worse quality than in-person debates. The other day, I got into a heated argument online with a conspiracy theorist (call him JU for Jong-Un, because, who else could he be?) about whether North Korea is a utopia or not (Yes, I know, I spend way too much time on the internet -- I swear I'm trying to cut down!)

I provided proof upon proof that there are serious issues with human rights in North Korea, citing statistics and interviews from the North Korean refugees, and photos taken in North Korea. JU basically didn't listen to anything that I said. Every time I try to show him a concrete fact, he would flatly tell me that there was no proof that they weren't fabricated. What was I to judge North Korea, without any proof that these "facts" were real?

Okay, I guess he might have a point. But more likely than not, he is just so caught up in his own world that no amount of proof can penetrate his mental defense. In other words, JU is invincible, thanks to his mentality.

I won't lie, the whole time, I was telling myself:
와, 저사람 정신승리 정말 대단하다. (His mind victory is incredible.)
The word "정신승리" literally means "mind (정신) victory (승리)." Because in his own world (inside his mind, or 정신), JU is truly invincible and thus will be the victor every time (승리). It's an extreme form of rationalization.

We see a milder kinds of people who achieve 정신승리 every day by making lame excuses. When someone loses in a video game, she might say:
랙걸려서 진거야. 원래는 내가 너보다 잘해 (I only lost because my internet connection was lagging. If it weren't for that, I'm better than you.)
By the way, notice that when the internet connection is lagging, the Koreans use the verb "걸리다" to say "랙 걸리다/랙이 걸리다." Anyway, you know that you're definitely better than her, so you're thinking to herself (or telling herself outright):
정신승리 하고있네 (You're just giving yourself a mind victory.)
In addition to this, millions of scenarios where someone can achieve 정신승리. They might just curse you out; they might refuse to listen to the content of your argument, instead focusing on grammatical and small discrepancies of your arguments, basically stagnating the debate; or loudly declare you to be the 어그로꾼 and 낚시꾼 (the suffix -꾼 denotes the person who is carrying out the act of 어그로 or 낚시); or they might even walk away from the argument entirely, accusing you to be incapable of carrying on a debate, when in reality, they are the ones who can't distinguish facts from blind beliefs.

For some reason, the Korean internet seems to have a surprising number of 정신승리 happening every day. When you spot them, be sure to call them out! The other users will appreciate the 사이다.

To finish, of course the word is sarcastic. You should only use it when you're picking fights (of course you shouldn't fight! But in the land of the Korean internet, sometimes it is just inevitable, and at the end of the day, it is all in good fun...)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

#48. You're provoking it!

It's been a while since I did a post on a Korean slang word that originates from video games, so here is a fun one.

Koreans play a lot of MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). Some of the really popular ones, among many others, include Lineage (리니지 in Korean) and World of Warcraft (WoW, or 와우 by pronouncing the abbreviation in Korean).

One feature of these MMORPGs is that each character comes with a bunch of stats. One of these stats is called "aggravation," which measures how belligerent your character is. The higher your aggravation stats are, the likely you are to draw the attention of the non-player characters (such as monsters prowling nearby) and be attacked. So gamers often talk about the "aggro stats." In Korean, "aggro" is pronounced "어그로," not exactly sure why, but this is what stuck.

But Korea, being the unofficial gaming capital of the world, is probably the only country that brought this gaming word into mainstream usage. Even outside of these gaming settings, if a particular user seems to be acting belligerently, or acting in a fashion that would attract fights, the Koreans would say:
저 분 어그로 끄시는듯 (This person seems to be asking to be attacked).
For some reason, the act of provoking others as a verb is "어그로를 끌다." Although it is not entirely clear to me why the correct verb would be "끌다," but my guess is that this comes from another slang of a similar meaning. In an earlier post, I had talked about how certain Korean internet users troll for reaction. In Korean, such an act could be described as "낚시를 하다" or "go fishing."

Nuance-wise, "어그로를 끌다" is more of a large-scale trolling, whereas "낚시를 하다" is more in the scale of a small practical joke. Well, large-scale fishing would be done by casting a net into the sea. In order to get more fish, you would drag the net. "To drag" in Korean is "끌다." So, that's my guess.

The above picture is pretty well-known in the Korean internet circles as an example of "어그로를 끌다." If you read the caption, it is definitely anger-inducing. It shows a segment of the Korean TV news. The title of the article is "월요일이 무서워요... 월요병 해결방법은?" (I am afraid of Mondays... How to cure the Monday sickness).

The solution offered by the news source? "심할 경우 일요일 출근해 잠간 일하면 도움돼" (If the Monday sickness becomes too much, showing up to work for a little while on Sundays helps). And this infuriated a lot of Koreans, especially considering that this is coming from a national news source! Many Koreans watched this news and probably said to themselves:
어그로 한번 제대로 끌었네 (That was a proper display of "aggro").
This word, as it comes from video games, is definitely safe to use with your peers, but likely the elders won't understand it. It's not particularly offensive, although it is definitely vulgar.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Listening Exercise with Transcript #8: Hurry up!

Here is a short sketch from the TV show "Gag Concert (개그 콘서트)," which, unlike most Korean TV shows, takes the form of live stand-up comedy. It is the longest-running comedy program of Korea, having started in 1999, and it is still ongoing, although its popularity is not what it used to be.

The comedians would prepare a recurring theme, and broadcast a short skit loosely fitting this theme for weeks or months, based on the reception from the audience. So although the sketches were new every week, you could make an educated guess about how the skit would go.

One such theme, which was very popular and ran for years, was called "달인 (world expert)." The rough idea is that an MC of an imaginary show called "달인을 만나다" would introduce a guest (in reality, same comedian every time) who is the world expert at some random thing (the guest always appears with his top apprentice, called "수제자" in Korean), because he practiced it for several years. When they put him to the test, however, he fails miserably, and he ends up being booted from the show.

So the title of this sketch series (it's called "코너" or "corner" in Koreanized English) shows irony -- the letter "달" means "to be an expert at, or to have transcendental expertise." This letter is most used in "통달하다" (to know everything).  The letter "인" means "a person," as in "인부" (workman) or "부인" (wife). So "달인" actually means something more than just a "world expert" -- it's "someone who is so good that it feels like he transcends this world."

Anyway, here is the clip: see how much you can understand! (Warning: the dialogue is fast, so it is normal to not understand a word!)

And the transcript follows: B for the guy in black on right, and W for the guy in the middle wearing white (the guy wearing blue doesn't say anything.) To facilitate your understanding, proper nouns are placed in quotation marks! The explanation of the clip follows the transcript.

B: 네 여러분 안녕하십니까! "달인을 만나다"의 "류담"입니다. 오늘 이시간에는 16년동안 시간의 소중함을...
W: 아~ 빠, 빠, 빠, 빠, 빨리 얘기해. 빨리 빨리 빨리 얘기해. 빨리 빨리!
B: 시간의 소중함을 깨닫고 급한 성격으로 살아오신 급한 성격의 달인, "조퇴 김병만" 선생님을 모셨습니다.
W: 아 거거, 뭐 좀, "조퇴 김병만"이에요, "조퇴 김병만." 빨리 얘기해야지 뭘 그렇게...
B: 어우, 진짜 성격 급하시네!
W: 그 얘기 하는데 길어요? 시간없어 죽겠는데?
B: 네 알겠습니다... 선생님께서 얼마전에...
W: 얼마전에 뭐, 뭐?
B: 네, 얼마전에...
W: 아, 무슨 얘기 하려고 하는데, 지금? 아, 무슨 얘기 하려고, 지금?
B: 아, 아니, 네, 얼마전에 그 책을 쓰셨다고...
W: 아 책 냈어, 책 냈어요!
그... "가는 말이 빨라야 오는 말이 빠르다."
B: "가는 말이 빨라야 오는말이 빠르다."
W: 네 그책 냈어요. 아우, 나 목타죽겠다. 가서 물 좀 떠와, 아 빨리 물 좀 떠와! 빨리 가서... 그 하나, 둘, 셋, 놔둬! 임마 안먹어 안먹어 안먹어 늦었어,늦었어 시간없어죽겠는데 그 빨리... 저... 가만있어봐.
어 아가씨 마음에 드는데 어? 나랑 사겨! 어? 싫어? 어? 셋셀때까지 얘기해.
하나, 둘, 셋, 놔둬! 늦었어 늦었어 늦었어! 내가먼저 찬거야, 내가먼저 찼어!
B: 먼저찼다고요?
W: 늦었어 늦었어! 어, 내가먼저찼어.
빨리빨리빨리 얘기해, 시간 없어 죽겠네!
B:  예, 알겠습니다. 오늘 저희가 준비한...
W: 시간 없어 죽겠네, 에이 참!
B: 질문이 한 30가지가 됩니다.
W: 무슨 30가지야! 혼자 "개그콘서트" 다 할거야? 가만있어봐.
요것 아니고, 요것 아니고, 아 요것만해. 맨 끝에거.
B: 맨 끝에것만 하라고요?
W: 아 맨끝에것만 하기 싫어? 자, 하나, 둘, 셋!
B: 나가!

B: 야 수제자! 야~ 넌 느긋하다! 어? 커피도 타먹고.

This transcript is hard to understand for a couple of reason. First of all, the character in white, called "조퇴 김병만," speaks very, very quickly (I also had to listen to certain parts a few times before understanding him!) Also, the characters constantly interrupt each other!

First, an explanation of the name "조퇴 김병만." Back in the days of Joseon Dynasty or older, many learned people (선비) used to give themselves another name. It's not so different from how the anglophones give themselves nickname, such as John "the Dude" Doe, except the tone is a lot more serious. As an example, 이황 (Hwang Lee), the guy on your 1,000 won bills, gave himself the nickname of "퇴계," meaning "leaving this world." ("퇴" as in "퇴장" meaning "exit," and "계" meaning "the world" as in "세계." He probably wanted to leave the messy world of politics and indulge in the nature and other spiritual things dictated by Confucianism!) So now the Koreans often call him "퇴계 이황."

This guy. Hwang "Out of this World" Lee.

So 김병만, the comedian in white, gave himself the nickname of "조퇴" meaning "early dismissal," often used in schools when you leave school early for sickness or other reasons. Somehow this word is not nearly as serious in tone as the other nicknames that the Koreans of the olden days used, so it is already pretty funny! And true to his nickname, he is in a hurry for no reason, speaking very quickly and cutting the man in black (his name is 류담, as he says in the transcript) off all the time.

In this sketch, 김병만 is the world expert of being in a hurry ("급한 성격" meaning hurried personality.) He hurries things up so much that he transcends everyone in hurrying up.

While the MC 류담 is trying to interview him, 조퇴 김병만 is constantly distracted and annoyed at the slow pace of the MC. When the MC is trying to mention the book that he's written, named "가는 말이 빨라야 오는 말도 빠르다," 김병만 tries to complete the MC's sentence. (By the way, the title of the book is a play on the Korean proverb, "가는 말이 고와야 오는 말도 곱다," or "Only when you speak nicely to others, will the others speak nicely to you." He replaces "nice" by "quickly.")

He then wants a glass of water, but when his apprentice is too slow, he gives up. He then spots a cute girl in the audience and asks her out, but when she is not quick enough to respond (until he counts to three), he gives up and claims that he dumped her. Finally, the MC tries to go through the list of 30 questions that they prepared, and 김병만 says that he has no time for this, and that he will only do the last question. MC has enough of it and kicks him off.

Then his top apprentice, who seemed like he was not so much in a hurry (because he fiddles with a coffee mix, presumably to mix it with hot water and make a cup of coffee for himself), just swallows the coffee mix instead of actually making a cup of coffee.

Friday, June 23, 2017

#47. Stepping into Korea's past

If you stop to think about it, it might astound you just how much of the life from the Joseon Dynasty (조선 시대) carried over to our modern life.

In today's Korea, one of the jobs that are considered the best by the Korean people is to be a public servant (공무원: "공" means "public" as in "공공기관 (public institution)" or "공익 (public good)"; "무" means "work" as in "업무 (work)"; "원" refers to a person who holds down a particular job.) The reason for this is simple. While any other job, be it by a corporate or self-employment, has the potential to disappear, being a public servant is as stable as it gets. Getting fired takes a lot of paperwork (just like any other governmental work!) and promotion is more or less automatic. When you retire, you are given a good pension to comfortably live out the rest of your life. Even though the public servants tend to get paid less than corporate jobs, the Koreans still flock to this job due to its stability.

How to obtain one of these jobs? Simple. Take a test. This test, called 공무원 시험 (literally, public servant test), often tests your knowledge in Korean, English, Korean history, and other subjects relevant to the position that you are applying for. For most of the Korean public servant positions, you must pass one of these tests. There are classes of public servants. The lowest being 9급 공무원 (level 9 public servant), who work in local offices. The highest is 1급 공무원 (level 1 public servant), who work as the head of national-level governmental offices.

These tests are, as you may guess, very competitive. For example, in 2016, for the 9급 공무원 시험 (test to select level 9 public servants), about 165,000 people signed up to take the test. The target number of public servants? Around 4,000. Many people waste years of their lives trying to score well on these tests, but things don't always go as planned.

This may seem like a strange way to select public servants. This is because the tradition of taking a test to hold a governmental post goes back to the Joseon Dynasty.

Back then, the level of the public servants went from the lowest of level 9 (9품) to the highest of level 1 (1품). They were selected by a nationally administered test called "과거 시험," and if you passed the test, then you were given a governmental post. If you pass, it was an honour of the family, and of your village, as it was very competitive -- often around two hundred people were selected out of hundreds of thousands of people who took the test. Not much has changed, huh?

Koreans sometimes reenact the 과거시험, which was held in one of the palaces around Seoul.

Anyway, in order to prepare for the test, you often had to start preparing at a very young age, pretty much as soon as you could walk and talk. In most villages, some people (sometimes retired public servants, sometimes just literate people) opened private schools, and taught the children of the village how to read and write. (As an interesting aside, there were a few nationally operated schools for talented or rich students -- the most famous one is 성균관, which is now a well-recognized university in Korea, and it has a language school that many foreigners go to in order to learn Korean!)

This iconic picture depicts a child being admonished by his teacher while his classmates look on with glee.

These precursors of teachers were called "훈장" or "훈장님." They taught Chinese characters, Confucianism, and ethics (most of which were tested in the 과거 시험). They were probably very strict, making sure that the students were up to the standards not only in reading and writing, but also in their ethics and everyday behaviour. After all, Confucianism is less a subject and more a way of life (which emphasizes humanity, loyalty, filial piety, and so on), so the 훈장님 had every right to interfere with how you were living with your life!

And then there were the other learned people, who did not necessarily teach the village children, but were just as well-versed in Confucianism as the 훈장님. These people were called 선비. They were smart, well-mannered, and seemingly incorruptible. If you were doing something that was morally wrong (say eating from your neighbour's apple tree) and a 선비 passed by you, you would have been ashamed to be caught by him, although they may or may not have said something to you.

This is how a typical 선비 used to dress. From the long overcoat called 도포 and the characteristic hat called 갓, you could recognize a 선비 from a mile away.
While these people were very much well-respected in Korea's past, now the Koreans seem to think that these people were probably a bit too intrusive. So, even these very respected people did not escape Korea's internet users.

For example, you might encounter a user who thinks that swearing is immoral, and they either try to put you down, or suggest a phrase that you could say instead. Or, when you're ranting about your ex, a user chimes in and says that you are being too emotional and unfair, and that in any case, you should never say anything bad about people that you know in a public place. In your anger, you can say:
훈장질 하지 마 (Don't play teacher)
선비 납셨네 (Here comes a 선비.)
"-질" is a derogatory suffix that attaches to job titles, so "훈장질" means you're playing the part of a teacher when you really shouldn't. "납시다" is an extremely respectful form of "오시다" which is already a respectful form of "오다 (to come)." You never use this word in modern Korea, as it could only be taken as sarcasm. In ancient Korea, this word would have been used only for the king. So by saying "선비 납셨네," you are saying, "A 선비 deigned to come to my humble abode" or something along these lines.

In both cases, you're basically making fun of their holier-than-thou attitudes, and these usages are fairly common non-profanity in Korea's online communities. While it is not vulgar enough to get you banned (some communities ban you for extreme swearing) it is bad enough to insult the listener. It also gets used among friends, but saying this to a stranger (especially older strangers) is a sure formula for some sort of a fight (probably verbal, as you wouldn't provoke them enough for a fistfight.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

#46. Dad jokes (feat. Mamamoo)

Okay, I'll admit this now. I am a big fan of Mamamoo. And they just came out with a new song today that has such clever lyrics, that despite the fact that I had already scheduled my posts to appear for the next week, I am going to change the order around and write a post about how cute their lyrics are.

Before going into that, though, one of the readers of this blog had commented before that certain ideas seem to transcend languages (the example that prompted this discussion was the fact that when someone is beyond frustrating, Koreans call them "carcinogenic," or "발암" -- on Reddit, you often see the comments of the form "this post just gave me cancer.")

Another instance of the transcendence of ideas is the idea of "dad jokes." For some reason, in both anglophone and Korean cultures, people think that dads really like lame jokes (Given that my dad is the master of lame pun-y jokes, I can't dispute that!)

The Korean equivalent of "dad jokes" is "아재개그." The word "아재" is a 경상 dialect (경상도 사투리) for "아저씨," which officially refers to married men (but in reality, it's hard to figure out whether someone is married or not, so calling people who look like they're past their late thirties is a fair game!) And using 사투리 (dialect) adds familiarity to "아저씨."

Anyway, here are some examples of 아재개그 in Korean!

Q: 미치기 싫으면 어떻게 하죠? (What to do if I don't want to go crazy?)
A: 솔을 치면 됩니다. (Hit the sol-note instead.)

Most dad jokes rely on lame puns. This is one example of it. The word "미치다" means crazy, but you could also break it up into two parts to get "미 치다," which means to hit "미." Koreans use the note names for music scales (so cdefgabc becomes do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do (도레미파솔라시도)). They're telling you that if you don't want to hit "미" then just go ahead and hit "솔."

Q: 이 바나나를 먹으면 어떻게 될까요? (What happens when you eat this banana?)
A: 저한테 반하게 됩니다. (You will fall for me.)

This is another pun. When you read out the word "바나나," it sounds exactly like the word "반하나," which means "to fall for." It's a silly play on two words sounding the same!

Q: 저한테 불만있으세요? (Do you have problems with me?)
A: 아니요, 물도 있어요 (No, I also have water.)

"불만있다" means "to have a complaint." But you can also break it up to "불만 있다," or "only have fire." Well, they're telling you that not only do they have only fire, but also they have water.

Q: 지금 제주도에요. (I'm at Jeju Island.)
A: 재주도 좋으시네요. (You're talented.)

This one is a bit of a stretch. The word "제주도" sounds like "재주도" which is "재주" + "도 (particle meaning 'also')" So when someone says that they're in Jeju Island, the dad joke is that they must be talented/lucky to be there. (In the song itself, the lyrics are: "내 맘을 흔든 너 재주도 좋아", or "lucky you, you made me fall for you.")

Well, these dad jokes, or 아재개그, make up the first part of Mamamoo's new song "아재개그." Here is the music video, which is subtitled because even the native Koreans would appreciate it!

And here are the rest of the 아재개그 that appear in the song:

Q: 잘생긴 부처님은 뭐라고 부를까요? (What do you call a handsome buddha?)
A: 부처핸섬! (Literally, buddha handsome, but it sounds like "put your hands up!")

The Korean word for "buddha" is "부처." If you were a buddhist and you wanted to talk about buddha, you would add "-님" to it to make it "부처님," to elevate buddha to a status higher than your own (this is common in all the religions in that you add "-님" to your deity. In Christianity, which was mixed with the Korean shamanism when it was first introduced, the deity's name is "하늘" or "the sky." So you call the deity "하늘님" or "하느님" which is the common usage nowadays.)

Q: 소금이 죽으면 어떻게 돼요? (What happens when salt dies?")
A: 죽염이 돼요. (It becomes bamboo salt.)
While "죽" means "bamboo" and "염" means "salt" in Chinese, this joke gives "죽" a secondary meaning of "dead," since it shares the same letter as "죽다 (to die)." Bamboo salt is made by putting regular salt in the hollow of bamboo branches, then roasting it over fire over time.

Q: 복숭아가 결혼하면 뭐게? (What happens when a peach marries?)
A: 웨딩피치. (It becomes Wedding Peach.)
"Wedding Peach" is a Japanese anime that had its heyday in Korea in the late 90s. It is similar to "Sailor Moon" -- a bunch of girls transform (into warriors in bridal dresses) to fight the evil.

Q: 만인의 파이는 뭐게? (What is the pie that everyone loves?)
A: 와이파이 (Wi-Fi.)
Since Korean alphabet doesn't distinguish between "P" and "F," the "pie" that everyone ("만인" or "ten thousand people") loves is "wi-fi."

Q: 소녀시대는 가게에서 뭘 할까요? (What does Girls' Generation do in stores?")
A: 티파니 (Tiffany/they sell t-shirts)
Girls' Generation is a popular girl group in Korea, and Tiffany is a member. "Tiffany," or "티파니" in Korean, sounds like "티 파니" or "Selling T." Koreans often just say "티" instead of "티셔츠 (t-shirts)."

Q: 소가 올라가면 어떻게 되나요? (What happens when an ox goes up?)
A: 소오름 (Goosebumps).
"소오름" is a slang for "소름" meaning "goosebumps." It can be broken up into "소 오름" or "the rise of ox."

Hopefully you enjoyed some of the Korean dad jokes -- they seem just as lame as the English ones. But then, the more lame a dad joke is, the better, right?


Addendum: Per request, here is the translation + explanation of the interlude (where the Mamamoo members are watching the TV broadcasting more 아재개그):

치맥먹을래? 여기요! 여기요! 서울역이요!

The speaker decide that he wants to order "치맥" (치킨과 맥주, chicken and beer), so he calls the waiter over. In Korean, the standard way to signal a waiter over is to say "여기요 (here)!" But "여기요" sounds exactly like "역이요 (this is a station)," so he adds a lame dad joke, saying "서울역이요 (this is Seoul station)." So, first he notes that there are two ways to interpret the short sentence "여기요," then he adds a few words to the beginning of that sentence to clarify the meaning of the sentence, showing the readers that he chose the very minor and obscure meaning over the meaning that everyone would have guessed.

저기요, 저기요, 옛날옛적이요!

Continuing with the above theme of same sound + adding a few words to the beginning to change the meaning, this time, he begins with the phrase "저기요 (excuse me)!" But again, "저기요" sounds exactly like "적이요 (doesn't even make a ton of sense)," and adds a few words at the beginning to get "옛날옛적이요 (once upon a time)." Seriously, these guys are even worse at dad jokes than Mamamoo!

A: 여기올 때 뭐 타고 왔어? (What did you ride to get here?)
B: 가르마 타고 왔지. (I parted my hair.)
A: 나는 커피타고왔는데! (I just made a coffee from coffee mix!)

This joke is more in line with the dad jokes in Mamamoo's songs. The verb "타다" usually refers to riding cars, but its very minor usage is "가르마 타다," or "part one's hair" (Koreans have a word for the part itself; it's called "가르마.") So when one guy asks what the other guy took as transportation to get there, the guy intentionally misunderstands the meaning of "to take" to tell him that he parted his hair, as they use the same verb.

Another minor usage of "타다" is "to mix powder into liquid." In Korea, coffee mix is fairly common. Instead of fancy espresso machines, a lot of workplaces will provide you with coffee mix, and you mix the powder with the hot water to make coffee yourself. So when the guy B gives a dumb answer, the guy A gives an even dumber answer, saying "I just made coffee!"

A: 무슨 치킨 먹을래? (What kind of chicken do you want?)
B: 난 저기... 로보캅이 먹는거. (The kind that Robocop eats.)
A: 그게 뭐야? (What's that?)
B: 음~치킨, 음~치킨!

Listen to this joke, rather than just reading it! "음~치킨" definitely looks like a kind of chicken (like "양념치킨") but it also feels like a robot might make this sound when it's moving. This joke is definitely funnier than the others!

A: 엄마! 여기 무좀 주세요! 마마, 무!

This one should be pretty easy to understand. The man wants some pickled radish to go with his chicken, so he calls over the waitress (when they're not young, you sometimes call them "이모 (aunt)" or "엄마 (mother)") and asks for the radish (무). Of course, this is the same thing as "Mama, 무!" or, the name of the group "Mamamoo!"

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

#45. That k-drama sucks as if there is no tomorrow

K-dramas, as addictive as they can be, are full of clichés. If you take a step back, the majority of the plots can be described by the same sentences. An orphaned but optimistic girl meets a rich and handsome prince. The man's family, rich and huffy, can't accept this relationship and they try their best to sabotage it. Then the man's family hires assassins to kill the girl too, because actually, the man's family was responsible for the girl's parents' deaths. But then it turns out that one of the assassins hired to kill the girl is the girl's childhood sweetheart. Now they're in a love triangle... "Ugh!" you scream. "I've had enough of this ridiculousness!"

And it turns out that he girl's mother was actually not dead. She emerges out of nowhere to curse out her boyfriend, and slaps him with some kimchi.
Yes, I get it. The Koreans get it, too. But for some reason, you can't stop watching the drama, although you'll complain about it until the drama comes to an end.

Koreans do the same thing, actually. Except that dramas of this sort are so common that they have a word for it. The Koreans would complain:
이 드라마 줄거리 정말 막장이네. (The plot of this drama is really 막장.)
Informally, when I see the word "막장," I understand it as "having gone so far with the ridiculous plot that there is no way to salvage the drama from ever being respected again.

There are two interesting theories of where this word came from, though.

The first is that this word comes from "the end of the market day." The letter "막" is a Korean prefix that means "last." For example, "막차" means "the last car (bus) schedule of the day." And "장" means "market," mostly in the traditional sense of an open outdoor market that happens every few days. At the end of these market days, the vendors, not wanting to be stuck with spoiled goods, start calling out ridiculously low prices for their goods. The prices can sink as low as they want, just like the quality of the plots of some k-dramas. This might be where the word "막장" comes from.

The second is a little bit darker. Between 1950s to 1970s, Korea was a pretty terrible place to live. The country was just starting to recover from the destruction of the Korean war (and also, the Japanese occupation has just ended some 10 years ago), and Korea was very poor, at least as poor as most of the third world countries nowadays.

During this era, coal mining was one of the biggest industries that sustained the country. Korea exported a lot of coal to the US, and most Korean homes were heated by using 연탄 (or 구공탄, because it has nine holes: "구" means "nine" and "공" means "hole"), which burned more slowly than wood, and thus more convenient (This feels like ages ago, but I still have memories of going to my grandparents' house, which was in the outskirts of Seoul, and they burned 연탄 until the mid-90s. Some places, even in Seoul, still use it!)

Pre-usage, it's black. Once it's all burned off, it turns into white ash. You could use tongs to insert into the holes, so that you could transport them easily into the fire.

Thus, the production of coal was very important. However, as we all know, mining is a very dangerous business. For one, your life expectancy as a miner was drastically decreased, not only from the bad air in the mines, but also from the fact that being in the mine itself was very dangerous. It could collapse any minute, and the smallest accidents led to catastrophic results. In particular, the deeper in the mines you worked, the more dangerous risks you ran.

The deepest of the mines were called "막장." If you were working in the "막장" of the mines, you were regarded as someone who had nothing to lose. There was almost no oxygen, and if any part of the mines collapsed, you were sure to be buried in. Although the compensation was greater, you'd have to be in a very deep financial trouble to want to volunteer to work there. To this day, in the mining villages of Korea, the word "막장" is taboo.

Nonetheless, the Koreans feel that this describes the state of some terrible k-dramas. They've degenerated so far and all respect has been lost, that they have nothing to lose by creating another ridiculous plot twist!

As for the usage, this is pretty common. Of course, because of the derogatory nature of the word, you don't want to use it in any situations that could offend anyone. But if you called a k-drama "막장,"it likely won't be much of a problem in an informal company (unless you had a die-hard fan for that drama!) Look for this word in the comments of internet news articles describing the plots of some k-dramas!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#44. How to compliment a fellow internaut on a post well done

Although I'm no expert in literature, it seems to me that a lot of value is placed on novel expressions (and cliché is, for the most part, hated.) If the Koreans could figure out a way to be a little less vulgar on the internet, the Korean internet could really be a treasure trove for the aspiring writers, and the Korean internet writers would be veritable literary connoisseurs.

From the ancient times, Koreans always have placed a lot of value on humour and satire. If there was a political problem, the literate people would write a fun novel meant to satirize the situation. The common folks would put on a show that makes fun of the higher-up political people. You've probably seen the traditional Korean masks called "탈." The Korean common folks would dance with these masks on in the busy marketplace (which became an artform called "탈춤" or "masked dance") so that people would not know the identity of the brave ones that dared to criticize the powerful people. Koreans believe that by laughing about a problem together, at least there would be moral support for the difficult times that they must endure together.

A masked dance like this possibly originated from making fun of a corrupt Buddhist monk (who is supposed to remain celibate) associating with women -- even with this public display, the identity of the dancers were kept secret thanks to the mask (탈).

The tradition of humour continues to this day, and the internet users of Korea often hopes to come up with a fresh expression that makes people laugh. For example, I have previously written about someone complaining about no meat in his meal.

The opposite word of cliché is probably "ad lib," or "애드립" in Korean, which underlines spontaneity and the novelty. Koreans have shortened this word to "드립" to talk about the new expressions.

As an aside, this shortening makes a lot of sense to the Koreans; remember that most Korean names are three letters, and the first letter is the last name -- for example, "정윤호" is a name of a Korean, whose first name is "윤호" and whose last name is "정." If you wanted to be friendly with this person, you just call them by their first name "윤호." Koreans use this approach to a lot of three-letter words. If you wanted to convey the feeling of vulgarity, you often drop the first letter of a three-letter word and use the latter two letters, if the first letter does not contribute in a major way to the meaning of the word. For example, "아줌마" often gets abbreviated to "줌마" which is a lot more vulgar and familiar in style.

Anyway, "드립" in Korean now applies to an extremely wide variety of internet posts that are spontaneous and funny in nature. It could refer to an entire post that is humorous and unexpected, or it could refer to a single sentence or even just a phrase that brings humour to a situation. For example, here is a post from DC Inside (Korean Reddit) that is considered to be a pretty funny 드립:

The poster spontaneously decided to post about his lunch, as shown in his title "오늘 점심밥" (today's lunch). He then posts a picture of some fries and coke, and writes in the body: "My hamburger got stolen by some elementary school bastard while I went to the counter to get some ketchup."

"초딩" is a standard slang for "elementary school student" (and we also have the words 중딩, 고딩, 대딩, and 직딩, for middle schoolers, high schoolers, university students, and people who work.) "새끼" means a "bastard" and you can pretty much add it to any noun to express your displeasure. For example, if you don't like your teacher, you can say "선생 새끼" or if you just bumped your toe into a table, you can say "테이블 새끼." While it is considered a bad profanity in real life, in most internet communities, it is just another word. Anonymity of the internet does wonders!

"시발" is like "f-ing" and you can pretty much add it to any part of your sentence to convey to the readers that you're upset or angry about something. Any of these would be a valid and natural sentence to a native Korean (I don't understand the grammatical workings, but putting "시발" in any other place would seem unnatural; perhaps you can figure out the rules, in which case, please comment to let me know!):

시발 햄버거는 케찹가지러 카운터 간사이 어떤 초딩새끼가 훔쳐감
햄버거는 시발 케찹가지러 카운터 간사이 어떤 초딩새끼가 훔쳐감
햄버거는 케찹가지러 시발 카운터 간사이 어떤 초딩새끼가 훔쳐감
햄버거는 케찹가지러 카운터 간사이 시발 어떤 초딩새끼가 훔쳐감
햄버거는 케찹가지러 카운터 간사이 어떤 시발 초딩새끼가 훔쳐감
햄버거는 케찹가지러 카운터 간사이 어떤 초딩새끼가 시발 훔쳐감
In any case, the original poster of the above was complimented of his "드립" by the other DC Inside users, for being funny, original, and unexpected. The users might have said things like:
ㅋㅋㅋ 드립보소 (Look at the 드립 of this guy!)
드립 죽인다 (the 드립 is so good that it could kill)
There are many words that are born from "드립" which is more or less a root word at this point in the Korean internet, but I will have to deal with those some other time, as this post is already pretty long! However, if you ever wanted to compliment a funny post, try using the word "드립" to refer to the post!

While this word is not offensive in any way, due to the fact that slang is often used within a certain demographic group, you should only use this with your friends, or on the internet.