Showing posts with label internet slang. Show all posts
Showing posts with label internet slang. Show all posts

Sunday, November 3, 2019

#135. 공사치다 -- Blindsided by love (feat. Ellin of Crayon Pop)

How time flies! 2019 marks the seventh-year anniversary of the debut of the K-pop girl group Crayon Pop, well-known by its one mega-hit song "Bar Bar Bar."

This unfortunate group must have felt incredible pressure to continue to entertain with their gimmicks after the amazing success of "Bar Bar Bar," but never overcame it. All things considered, it wasn't just the creative barrier that got them; the group's promotional activities were hindered by their youngest member (aged 25 at the time) So Yul (소율) taking a leave from Crayon Pop due to anxiety disorders...

Except that it turned out that she didn't actually have an anxiety disorder. She had gotten pregnant from a relationship with Moon Heejoon (문희준) of H.O.T., one of the most popular Kpop group from the 90s (aged 38 at the time). And one day, without consulting her management company or the other members of Crayon Pop, she announced her engagement and the upcoming wedding.

The couple.
As I understand it, this threw the Crayon Pop fandom into chaos. Not only was So Yul the youngest member, their princess was pregnant, and getting married to a much older guy who had a reputation for being sleazy! Moon had just been slammed by his own fans for having scheduled way too many concerts (from which most of the revenue goes to Moon himself), and encouraging his fans (mostly in their 30s now) to not only attend his concert, but to attend ALL the concerts. The fans complained
"문희준은 우리를 ATM기계로 알아." (Moon Heejoon thinks that we're ATM machines, from which he can withdraw money whenever he pleases).
Even though he had completed his military service and had essentially earned the right to never be criticized (까방권), this was too much, and he was under much fire. The couple's fandom was further disintegrated as the couple insisted that they were not expecting a child; a lie that revealed itself in less than nine months.

Anyway, due to these unfortunate events, Crayon Pop's future looked bleak. And the other members of Crayon Pop were left to fend for themselves. The most successful out of the remaining members is currently Ellin (엘린), who found her true calling in the live streaming world. She debuted as the BJ (Broadcasting Jockey; I know it sounds weird, but this particular American slang has not hit Korea yet) of Afreeca, where the BJs live-stream whatever you please, and if that also pleases the audience, then the audience rewards the BJ by sending them "별풍선" (star balloons, approximately 10 cents per balloon) in the chat window.

Ellin shared everything about herself on Afreeca, from her meals to her makeup tips, as well as behind stories about K-entertainment industry. This is how a typical livestream looked like for Ellin.

Already having a lot of name recognition as a member of Crayon Pop, and having stories about the K-entertainment industry that an average person couldn't access previously, her channel gained popularity quickly. It also helped that her fans gifted her with many 별풍선s; she quickly got her name into the list of BJs with the most number of star balloons, and that further aided in her growth.


Afreeca actually does not have a great reputation among the Koreans; while it has its fanbase, many Koreans also believe that sending cash real-time is grotesque and vulgar. For example, many BJs would perform a certain reaction to a certain number of 별풍선s given to them by a single user -- so, in a way, you could manipulate the BJ into doing certain actions for a small amount of money, and this did not sit well with the general public.

For example, in this video, the viewers of BJ 양팡's live streaming kept gifting her with star balloons, so she had to continue to react to them for an hour straight!

So, in a sense, Afreeca is the ultimate capitalist world, where money reigns supreme. And if one of the viewers who contributed way above the other viewers, the BJ became more and more dependent on that one viewer, because if the BJ displeased the viewer, the BJ risked losing a large portion of their income, which was often in the six-figures, or even in the millions each month. And the top viewer got to feel like they "owned" the BJ; the BJ would normally start contacting the top viewers outside of their livestream, and get to know them personally. I mean, if someone is giving you millions of dollars each year, they'd want something in return, right?


This is where Ellin's trouble started. She also had a top viewer, who had gifted her approximately $1 million USD over the past year. As per the usual unspoken rule of Afreeca, she and this viewer (called 뭉크뭉, as that was his online handle; I have no idea what that means) started contacting each other regularly outside of the livestream.

Here are some samples of the Kakaotalk messages that they sent between themselves (yellow: 뭉크뭉, white: Ellin)
Here are some of their sample chats on Kakaotalk:

1. Ellin: (Sends a photo of her ripped jeans) Can you sew up my jeans please?
   뭉크뭉: Do you want me to buy you some clothes?
    Ellin: Some pants please...

2. Ellin: I want to ask you something
    뭉크뭉: Okay
    Ellin: I'm trying to dye my hair. Should I do chocolate brown, or blue black?

3. 뭉크뭉: Wow, what's up? (ed: she must have done something unexpected)
     Ellin: (Sends a photo of her legs and the belly of her dog) I just woke up

4. 뭉크뭉: Why don't you come by a Friday morning flight?
     Ellin: Just one day? Are you kidding? Let's just go to Gapyeong instead and have a really fun day.
     Ellin: We can do zipline (heart emoticon)

5. 뭉크뭉: My heart and my head are saying different things. We should both just die together.
     Ellin: Is this some mid-life crisis? Let's die together, we're like needle and thread!

6. Ellin: (Sends a year-old video)
    뭉크뭉: Wow, I must have loved you a lot a year ago.
     Ellin: It's only been a year between us, have you already changed?

Given these messages, it seems that 뭉크뭉 (perhaps reasonably so) thought that Ellin would be interested in a romantic relationship with him. So, in late October, he asked Ellin out formally (although I imagine they were spending tons of time together, and talking to each other every day by then), telling her that he wanted to talk about their future together. Ellin responded by saying that she only saw him as a close friend, and that she had no idea that 뭉크뭉 thought of her in that way.

뭉크뭉 felt that Ellin should have drawn the line somewhere if she didn't see him in a romantic light; he asserted that no man would casually spend $1M USD on a woman that he wasn't romantically attracted to, and that she should have said something earlier. And even if she hadn't, he would have felt better about her if she were more honest, saying that she liked the money. He really didn't like that she played dumb.

So he decided to go public. He asserted that all of their mutual friends saw them as a couple; that she asked him to walk her home and pick her up on multiple occasions; and that she introduced him to her family including her mother and her aunt.

While some people expressed disgust that he tried to quite literally buy a woman with money, yet many others thought that 뭉크뭉 fell into a well-crafted scam by Ellin. And they talked about the situation like this:
"엘린이 공사친거네." (Ellin did some construction work.)
It isn't completely clear to me what the etymology of the slang "공사치다" is; an extensive Google search didn't point me to anything particularly conclusive, but I think that it must come from the standard Korean word for "construction," because in order to scam someone big-time like this, you have to carefully build lies upon lies, much like building a skyscraper. If you were simply trying to hit on someone (usually with the intention of being in a non-serious relationship), then you can say:
"나 저 여자한테 작업걸어볼까?" (Should I try some construction work on her?)
where if you were working on a construction site, then you are doing a "작업." A "작업" is the day-to-day activity on a construction site, and the entire purpose of the construction site is the "공사."

So "공사치다" is like making a larger-scale move on someone with an intention that is not 100% honest; it means that someone (usually a woman, but not necessarily) gave someone else (a 호구, really) an illusion of being interested in them, in order to get things out of the person.

Another way to describe the situation in Korean slang is to call the woman a "꽃뱀 (flower snake)" (and if the scammer is a man, then you can call the man "선수", quite literally a "player".) As you can see, the flower snake is quite beautiful, but it is poisonous.

Another source claims that the word "공사" comes as an abbreviation of the phrase "들여 기치다" (Spend a lot of effort in scamming someone), which also seems to make sense! Although no one is sure of the etymology of this word that only came into being a few short years ago, I think all the Koreans can agree on the meaning of this word.

In any case, the Ellin scandal is still unfolding, and although it's just a livestream, the Korean entertainment news outlets are treating it as a front-page news; Ellin did another livestream a few hours ago from the time of this writing trying to present her side of the story, but the general consensus is that her explanations seemed either fabricated or unconvincing. 뭉크뭉 also expressed outrage at her explanations, and promised to tell "the whole story (whatever that is!)" in a few days. I suppose for a general viewer, this situation is:
"팝콘각이네" (The situation seems to be setting itself up for some popcorns.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

#133. 내로남불 -- Romance for me, infidelity for you

One of the things that always impress me when I meet a foreigner trying to learn Korean is when they use a 사자성어 (four-letter proverbs) in their sentences. Korean has an abundance of four-letter proverbs in its vocabulary, and even among native Koreans, knowing a lot of 사자성어 is a mark of your intellect, as these often come with a back story, or you simply need to know a lot of hanja to decipher its meanings. Only a well-read person could casually throw in 사자성어 into their daily conversations, and it is a sign that you are proficient in hanja, history, and philosophy. You might say something like:

"지수는 사자성어를 많이 써서 정말 유식해보여" (Jisoo sounds so smart because she uses so many four-letter proverbs.)

Here's an example of a nice 사자성어: A king is like a raft, while the people are like the water (군주민수). While the people lift and worship the king much like water does a raft, it is also water that sinks the raft. Deep, right?

Of course, out of tens of thousands of 사자성어 that exist, an average Korean probably knows a hundred or less. And why not? The ignorance of the four-letter proverbs doesn't really hinder your ability to have an exciting conversation.

Nonetheless, it is still fun to try to sound smarter. And so, Koreans started coming up with fake four-letter proverbs. In this new wave of slangs in the era of the internet, the reigning philosophy became that "anything four-letter goes". Unlike the classical four-letter proverbs that always come from hanja, these new four-letter proverbs are often an abbreviation of an existing phrase.

Koreans like shortening sentences and words already (for example, "구 (boyfriend)" becomes "남친", a male friend becomes "남사친", meaning "자친구아니고 구 (not a boyfriend, just a human friend)", and "iced americano" becomes "아아", short for "이스메리카노"). So shortening particular phrases that get used a lot into four-letters became a fun game.

One of the most common "fake" four-letter proverbs that are being used nowadays is "내로남불." It is shortened from the phrase
"가 하면 맨스, 이 하면 륜." (Romance for me, infidelity for the others.)
 As you might easily guess (and these "fake" four-letter proverbs are much easier to guess the meanings!), this phrase is used to criticize someone who is overly generous with themselves, while using a much harsher standard for the others. And of course, everyone knows that someone who found the love of their lives for the fifth time, while being married. While they might romanticize their situation as a romantic escapade, these people are usually not so tolerant towards the others (or heaven forbid, should their partner cheat on them!)

Take Cho Kuk (조국), for example, who is the newfound Korean icon of 내로남불.

Meet Cho Kuk. His name is synonymous to "my country (조국)"; and his Twitter handle, @patriamea, of course, means "my country" in Latin!
He is the newly appointed minister of justice of Korea. Prior to his political life, he was a professor of law at the Seoul National University, which is the most prestigious of all universities in Korea. He was actively involved in politics since his college days, but his fame seems at least partially based on his good looks and his Twitter account, in which he did not hesitate to criticize the injustice of the Korean society.

For example, in this tweet, he criticizes the competitiveness of the Korean society. He says: "We all like the rags-to-riches stories (in Korean: a dragon rose from a small stream). However, our society now is a rich-gets-richer type society, and the chances of going from rags to riches is very low. Not everyone needs to be a dragon, and there is no need. The more important is that we can be happy in our small streams living as fish, frogs, or crayfish. Let's not compete unnecessarily, and make beautiful streams instead!"

Many people found his words comforting, direct, and inspiring. However, when he was named by the president to be the next minister of justice, stories started coming out.

One such story concerned his daughter, Cho Min (조민), who is currently a medical student at Pusan National University. The stories alleged that Cho Min was struggling, essentially failing her classes every semester. Given that her undergraduate degree was from Korea University (one of the SKY universities and very prestigious!), this was very puzzling.

This is Cho Min.

The stories then said that while Cho Min was a high school student, she interned at a professor's medical lab at Dankook University (not as prestigious as SKY, but still 인서울, in-Seoul, and a well-known university) for two weeks, and became a first author of a paper. People suspected that she was accepted to Korea University based on her extracurricular activities, and not necessarily her grades.

Given that her father was being considered for the position of minister of justice, an investigation launched both at the official level involving the prosecution, and also the netizens of Korea. It was revealed that her high school grades were indeed very bad (to be fair, her high school is quite competitive, but she also took an SAT test, and received a score of 1970 out of 2400, which is certainly not at the level suitable for elite universities.)

Furthermore, her father explained that she was made the first author of her medical paper because she translated everything to English, as her English was very good from having lived abroad for two years when she was a child. Nonetheless, the committee of ethics of the Korean Society of Pathologists found this to be unethical practice, and retracted her paper. It seems likely (from the interviews of the officials who were involved with her admission) that this paper played a large role in her admission, and that she was admitted to this lab in the first place due to her father's connections.

It also seems that her parents (both professors at the time) forged awards and certificates for prestigious internships to support her application to the medical schools; while all this is still under investigation, the prosecution alleges that some definitive and objective evidence proving forgery were uncovered.

The students of Korea University were understandably enraged; they protested on their campus calling for the cancellation of her admission and to revoke her degree from Korea University. The university officials haven't responded yet. This clever poster reads "조국 조민 국민 조롱," or "Cho Kuk and Cho Min have mocked the people."

And so people started using the phrase "내로남불" more and more often. While Cho Kuk seemed perfectly happy to advise the Koreans not to strive so hard for the top, he was doing everything he can to ensure that his daughter will have the perfect pedigree and the perfect career (it is alleged but not at all proven that Cho Kuk may have pressured the medical school to not to fail his daughter).

People started saying things like:

"조국 내로남불 진짜 너무하네." (Cho Kuk went way too far with his 내로남불 attitude.)
"조국이 저정도로 내로남불이었다니, 완전 실망이야." (I didn't realize that Cho Kuk was so hypocritical, I'm so disappointed.)
And honestly, there are many other allegations (such as the one that Cho Kuk used his governmental position of senior secretary for civil affairs to have insider knowledge of governmental investments, and that he invested inappropriately) concerning his behaviour. No single article could summarize everything that has come to light, as Cho Kuk's entire family (including his mother, his cousins and his children) are under investigation, and his wife alone is under suspicion for having committed ten different crimes (including forgery of her daughter's university application material).

Millions of people came out to protest this injustice.

This political scandal is still ongoing, and Cho Kuk is still under investigation. Unfortunately, the president still saw it fit to appoint him as the minister of justice, and Cho Kuk's first mission as the minister of justice is to reform the prosecution. His policies have clear conflicts of interest and it looks like it will cause quite a stir in the near future (his nephew and his brother are already arrested, and his wife and his mother are under investigation; rumour has it that Cho Kuk is the ultimate target for the prosecution.)

Because of all this, and the nationwide outrage, a new phrase is coming into existence: Instead of 내로남불, people started saying "조로남불" (조국이 하면 로맨스, 남이 하면 불륜: Romance for Cho Kuk, Infidelity for everyone else.)

I'm not sure exactly how this scandal will calm down; I'm guessing that Cho Kuk will have to step down (previously, when another minister came under the investigation of prosecution, he called for immediate resignation of this minister via his Twitter account, another 조로남불!) but anything seems possible in this crazy story, which most Koreans find to be more intriguing than K-Dramas.

If you're interested in the Korean politics, I'd say that this is definitely worth following, as it has been interesting, entertaining, outrageous, and just crazy.

Monday, July 29, 2019

#129. 손절 -- no longer friends

A few months ago, I had a huge fight with a close friend of mine named Anna. Anna and I have known each other since we were about 15 years old, and we knew everything about each other. As the Koreans say:
"우리는 서로의 집에 숟가락이 몇개인지까지 아는 사이였다." (Our relationship was such that we even knew how many spoons were in each others' houses.)
We were always aware that we were polar opposites, and we were always amazed that we somehow made our friendship work for so long. But our trouble started when Anna decided to try a dating app. This particular dating app puts a lot of the burden on the men; I've never tried dating apps, but according to Anna, the men are expected to initiate the first contact, be in charge of setting up the dates, and several dates after the first one. It was supposedly disadvantageous for the women to initiate contact to men who have not already expressed interest.

I don't want to go so far as to call myself a feminist, because I have not actively done anything towards the cause, but I do believe in gender equality, and I thought it was a sexist dating app. I don't think I was alone in thinking this, because the men on that app seemed terrible. One forgot his wallet at home and his plan for the first date was about 30 minutes long; another showed up in running clothes because he planned to go running in an hour, at which point he presumed the date would be over; yet another one told her the wrong location for the first date because they wanted to meet up in a chain restaurant and he confused two chains. This was not surprising to me, because I'd hope that the better men would stay clear away from this app, and that they would want to date a woman who is not just meekly following along, no matter how terrible his plans might be!

Anyway, when I said this to Anna (obviously, I tried to word it more nicely), she got very mad at me, and started defending these men. I felt really hurt, because she was willing to defend these men that she's known for all of three days chatting on this app, against my honest criticism! I mean, I've known her for 15 years, and it took me a lot of courage to even bring this up to her!

So, I spoke to some other friends about the hurt that I was feeling. Along with some other back stories, they all told me that maybe it's time that I stopped being Anna's friend. I still haven't made a decision on what I need to do, but it does give me an opportunity to talk about a new Korean slang that has been making its way around the internet!

If I were to talk to a Korean friend about my situation, I might tell her:
"나 요즘 애나랑 손절할까 고민중이야." (These days, I'm debating whether I need to cut off my friendship with Anna.)
The word "손절" seems very new; I don't think I knew what this word meant just a couple of years ago. This word originally comes from the stock investors; they used this word to mean that they want to sell off their stock before their loss (손해) becomes unmanageable. That is, they cut off (절단) their losses (손해). And the phrase "손해 절단" became shortened to "손절."

But then, recently, perhaps because almost every Korean was said to be investing in Bitcoins and whatnot, some of these investor's jargons made its way into everyday Korean, including the word "손절." Now it means to cut off an interpersonal relationship (before you become even more hurt). So in many relationship advice forums, you'll see titles like:
"이기적인 친구, 손절할까요?" (Selfish friend, should I cut him off?)
"동기랑 손절하고싶어요. 어떡하죠?" (I want to cut off a classmate from my life. What do I do?)

A translated version of Beatrice Rouer's "T'es plus ma copine" (you're not my friend anymore)

While this word feels somewhat formal (as its two syllables both have its origin in Hanja), it is nonetheless not correctly used, and some people seem to have strong reactions against it. The correct word to use would be "절교" -- to cut off (절) friendship (교). In fact, when I was a young child going to school in Korea, all our dramas in school ended with someone declaring a 절교 on someone else. Every couple of weeks or so, one of my classmates (I'm ashamed to admit, myself included) would dramatically walk up to someone who have gravely offended them, and declare:
"나 너랑 절교할거야." (I don't want to be your friend anymore.)
Then everyone would gasp, whisper, and take whichever side we felt was the right one. Perhaps because of these experiences, the word "절교" doesn't feel serious anymore, but I'm pretty sure that you could trace this word all the way back to some ancient 선비s (the scholars of the ancient times), who had irreparable differences in opinion, and decide that they could no longer continue visiting each other or speak to each other!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

#127. 존나 -- As f***

I am back from my hiatus with another penis post!

The korean colloquial word for "penis" is "고추," which also means "chili pepper." Presumably it just derives from their shapes.

The word "존나" has become such a classic slang word that I don't imagine it going anywhere. It was popular in the 90s when I was a kid, it is still extremely popular now (in fact, I am told that it was already popular in the 70s and 80s). So in short, every Korean knows what this word means.

To start, here are some examples of the uses for this word.

"선생님이 별것도 아닌걸 가지고 잔소리하는데 존나 짜증났어." (The teacher was nagging at me for nothing, and I was annoyed as f***)
"무슨 밥이 한공기에 만원이야? 존나 비싸네!" (How is a bowl of rice 10,000 won? That's expensive as f***)
"어제 영화보는데 내동생이 옆에서 존나 떠들어서 존나 패버리고싶었어." (My brother wouldn't f***ing shut up while I was watching a movie last night, and I wanted to f***ing beat him up.)

As you can see, the word "존나" is a pretty good translation of the f-word in English, both in its vulgarity and in its meaning. Just like how you expect a bunch of rowdy teenagers roaming the bars at night to be throwing the f-bombs everywhere, the main users of the word "존나" in Korea are also young men with rebellious streaks, and even then, only among close friends or in a fight.

Of course, more people tend to use it on the internet, because internet knows neither the age nor the gender of the speaker (and the Korean internet is a lawless wasteland.)

The word "좆," an extremely vulgar slang word for "penis," has been covered several times in this blog (not because I'm obsessed with it, but because so much of the Korean slang is based on sexuality!) For example, see 좆같다, 좆만하다, and 인실좆.

In this case, the word "좆" has been changed to "존," because the word "존나" comes from the phrase "좆나다," which pronounces exactly like "존나다," shortened to "존나." Well, can you guess what it means?

Here is a photo of a newborn sprout. In Korean, we might say "새싹이 나다 (Sprout has sprouted)."

It is a composition of the noun "좆 (penis)" and the verb "나다 (comes into existence, sprouts, grows, etc.)" You probably guessed it, "좆나다" quite literally means "penis has grown" or "erection."

So for example, the phrase "This pastry is so good that it's giving me an erection = This pastry is good AF" would translate to "빵이 존나게 맛있네," or "빵 존나 맛있네."

Since there is literally no other Korean word that involves the letter "좆" other than the extremely vulgar slang word for "penis," many internet communities will police themselves into blocking any posts that uses the word "좆," or even "좆나" and "존나," so this word has an amazing number of variants. The most common of these is "ㅈㄴ," using just the constants. Other variants include "조낸, 줜나, 졸라, 절라, 존내, 줠라, ..." all of which are vulgar as f***!

So, once again, I would refrain from using these words unless you're a male person into your third drink with your closest male friends (don't even use it in the presence of women... Yes, I know it sounds sexist, but Korea has a longer way to go towards gender equality, and it's better to play it safe than to make a huge faux pas in my opinion!)

Some softened form of this word exists. One is "열라," which comes from "열나다" (to be heated up.) While still not suitable for polite company, this will at least not earn as many frowns if you accidentally say it too loudly in a crowded subway.

For example, you could be having a snack with your girl friends, and say
"와 이 떡볶이 열라매워! 스트레스가 확 풀린다" (Omg, this 떡볶이 is spicy as f***! I feel like all of my stress disappeared.)

Unfortunately, the etymology of this word is a little bit more questionable (the avoidance of the word "penis" is what makes it a little less vulgar). Story has it that "열라" comes from the fact that if you have an extremely vigorous sex, you can heat up your 좆 via the friction.


In the similar vein, sometimes the older generation will use the phrase "좆빠지게," which means to the point where your penis falls off. Stretch your imagination in the context of sex, and deduce for yourselves why this is used as an exaggeration or a strong affirmation of an adjective. For example, you can say
"좆빠지게 일했는데 월급은 겨우 130이네." (I worked my penis off, and my paycheque for the month is only $1300 USD = 1,300,000 Korean won.)

No one believes me when I say that Korean is an extremely vulgar language. Maybe I will pique your interest if I say that literally no one on the internet will be offended by you using the word "존나." You can do much, much worse!

Friday, July 13, 2018

#125. 한국 vs. 독일 -- Korea vs. Germany

I hesitate a little to write this post, because Germany ranks at 7th place in the list of countries that visit my blog most frequently. So perhaps I will start this blog post with a disclaimer that I couldn't care less about the World Cup (really, I'm more of a Canadian than anything else!) and that the Germans beat Canada in Men's hockey in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics... That one still hurts!

That's solid, Germany!

Previously, I had talked about the word "드립." It comes as the familiar form of the word "ad lib" ("애드립" in Korean; to make it a familiar form in slang, just take off the first letter to get "드립", just like how you would omit the last name of a Korean person to be more familiar with them!)

The word "드립" is a bit of a badge of honour, because it is given to hilarious and fresh jokes. If your friend Sooyoung is very good at making funny jokes (the slangy verb form is "드립을 치다"), you can slangily describe that as:
"수영이는 드립을 엄청 잘 쳐." (Sooyoung is very good at making unexpected jokes).
Koreans have never been a serious group of people. Humour of all forms are visible in our traditional culture and literature, and so Korean internet users make all sorts of effort to be hilarious, and they try to be unique in their jokes.

Not surprisingly, the shocking win of Korean soccer team over Germany (and 2:0 at that) provided a great opportunity for the Koreans to come up with new jokes ("드립"), and although I know nothing about soccer, I enjoyed very much reading the one-line witticisms of the Koreans. I thought that I would try to write a blog post before the World Cup fever is over about some of my favourite 드립s. See if you can understand them!

In direct translation, it says "Germany is indeed the country of beer. Even their goalpost is BEER, f*** ㅋㅋㅋ." Of course, "Beer" written in Korean pronunciation is "비어," which can mean "empty" and so, using this substitution, the second phrase becomes
"골대까지 비어있네" (Their goalpost is empty.)
So because Germany is the country of beer (or emptiness, in Korean), their goalpost was empty, which allowed the Koreans to score an extra goal on Germany, whose goalkeeper had joined in the last-ditch attempt to score a goal on Korea.

This tweet talks about 종특 of the Koreans, which I had talked about here. Although the word "종특" can be translated as a "stereotypical characteristic," there is an inherent vulgarity and humour in the word. This tweet says:
"오늘 경기에서 한국 종특 2개나 나옴" (There were two stereotypical characteristics of Koreans in today's match)
The first stereotype is "나만 좆될수 없지," which roughly translates as "I won't be the only one f***ed over." The word "좆" means "penis," although it is used in a wide variety of contexts, such as here and here. In this context, the phrase "좆되다" (become a penis, when translated directly) means "in trouble" or "f***ed up" -- I suppose you would be in a huge trouble if you suddenly became a penis!

For example, you can say:
"어제 여친한테 거짓말한거 들켰어. 나 완전 좆됐어" (I'm so f***ed, my gf found out that I was lying yesterday.)
"나 시험공부 하나도 안했는데. 나 좆된거 맞지?" (I didn't study at all for the exam. I'm f***ed, right?) 

In any case, Koreans tend to be fairly jealous of each other's successes (can you blame them, given that competition shapes most Koreans' careers?) and they freely acknowledge it. While it would be frowned upon to take steps to ensure someone else's failures (usually at a heavy cost to yourself), I imagine that you would get at least a few nods of reluctant understanding from some Koreans.

So, since the Koreans were destined to not advance in the World Cup, the next stereotypical thing for the Koreans to do is to make sure that someone else fails, and who is a better target than Germany? Somehow, this situation of "weakest student messing up the top student's chance" resonated with the Koreans, and they took the opportunity to revel in the victory and also laugh at themselves.

The second stereotype is "벼락치기" which literally means "lightening strike," and it is used to describe the cliché situation of cramming for an exam. For example, you can say:
"오늘 시험보는걸 잊어버렸어. 앞으로 30분이라도 벼락치기를 해야겠다." (I forgot that we have an exam today. I should cram for the next 30 minutes.)
"성우선배는 벼락치기를 해서 서울대를 간 전설의 인물이야." (Sungwoo sunbae is the legendary character who crammed his way to Seoul National University.)
Many Koreans stereotypically cram for exams, and given that the Koreans scored two goals last-minute, it also seemed like a very typical Korean thing to do.

This tweet translates as "Korea was 'death' in the 'group of death'."

In every World Cup, the Koreans like to identify "죽음의 조" (group of death), which is the group where the competition is the most fierce. More often than not, the group of death will be the group that includes Korea (and maybe one other group, when it's obvious that Korea is not in the group of death!). After all, the Koreans like to think that they fought a hard battle, regardless of the outcome!

In short, the Koreans were just as shocked as the rest of the world at having beaten Germany. They didn't really try to brag too much, though. They enjoyed the miracle and made fun of themselves, and it was really a fun party :)

And I should also update you on why I haven't been writing more posts -- summers are usually the busy months as I travel a lot. Between my travels and personal issues, I just haven't had too much time to write an article, and the background seems to take an increasing amount of time with each article! Come late August or September, I should be able to update more frequently. Thanks for sticking around, dear Korean-lovers!

Friday, March 30, 2018

#120. 틀딱충 -- Shut up, gramps!

What kind of classes were you taking when you were a grade 9 student? In Canada, where I spent my grade 9 years, I took the core classes (English, French, math, science, physical education), and some electives (business studies, fine arts, and music).

While it did not immediately strike me as odd, I realized over the years that there was one core class that the Canadian education system was missing, that the Koreans thought were important. And that class was called "도덕 (ethics)." It is a core class starting in around grade 3 in Korea, and you take this class every year, well into your high school years.

These classes go by different names; "생활의 길잡이 (guide to everyday living) or 바른생활 (righteous living)" for the elementary school students, "도덕 (ethics/morals)" for middle school students, and "윤리 (ethics)" for high school students. Look at the textbook covers, which supposedly illustrates the ethical way of living.

Honestly speaking, the 도덕 classes were giveaways. They mostly taught you a slightly idealized version of common sense (at least, they should be common sense, if you grew up with good Korean values). While it was an annoying class to be in, I don't remember ever stressing out about the class material. However, looking at it from the perspective of a grown-up in a North American society, some of the values taught in a 도덕 class are pretty strange.

Here is a test question from a 도덕 class: Which of the following people have the most desirable attitude towards being in a relationship as an adolescent?
1. Smoke to look cool.
2. Ask to touch their body to satisfy their needs.
3. Make sure that the time and place of your dates are public.
4. Make it a deep relationship just between the two of you.
5. Meet privately, rather than meeting alongside many other friends.
The correct answer is 3 (not obvious at all, unless you're Korean!)
But in general, these classes teach you to be considerate of the others, and to be courageous in standing up for your morals and values. For example, it teaches you to be courteous and respectful to the elders in the society, and to listen to what they say, since they have years of wisdom; it also teaches you to give up your seats in public transit, if an elderly person gets on board; it also tells you never to raise your voices with an elder -- even if they make a mistake, you should be considerate, don't make them lose face, and privately point out their errors.

An ethical question might be: If you were not seated in a priority seating, and an old man with a cane hobbles in; do you give up your seat, or not?

Be considerate, respectful, and courteous, these ethics classes say. When you respect your elders, you will be respected when it is your turn to be the elderly of the society.

All of these things are, of course, completely reasonable to a Korean, especially considering that Korea is a country built upon Confucian values. However, with the development of the internet, and the ease of cultural exchange that comes with it, the Korean society is facing a fair bit of conflict in its ethical values.

The elderly, as they were taught, expect a certain level of respect and consideration from the younger generation. They expect that they will be given a seat by the younger Koreans whenever they board a public bus or a subway. They expect a certain degree of respect from the young. They expect all this, because they had given up their seats when they were young, and now it's their turn to reap the rewards of an ethical society.

If you're a Korean, you have likely seen pictures like this in your 도덕책 (ethics textbook).

However, the younger generation of Korea feels differently. While being over the age of 65 legally classifies you as an elder who should be respected, nowadays, 65-year-olds barely even have wrinkles, and they can certainly make a few stops on the bus while standing. There is no reason for them to give up their seats to these healthy-looking people, since they got there first. And the younger generation is not shy about speaking up. To the young of Korea, the expectations of the elders feel like entitlement.

So, the scenarios like the following are fairly common in Korea:


A young Korean is dozing off in her seat on the subway. The subway is fairly empty, with open seats scattered throughout the car. The door opens, and an elderly man strolls in, leaning on his cane. Evidently deciding that hobbling over to an empty seat is too long of a trek, the man stands in front of the young Korean and expectantly stares at her.

The young woman, mostly asleep, doesn't notice the elderly man, who grows impatient and starts conspicuously muttering to himself:
"아휴, 오늘 다리가 참 많이 아프네." (Ugh, my leg really hurts today.)
When the young woman still doesn't notice, the man starts tapping the young woman's leg with his cane, escalating the force with each tap. When the young woman finally looks up, the old man explodes in fury, saying:
"요즘 젊은것들은 버릇이 없어요." (The young ones these days have no manners.)
Flustered, the young woman gets off at the next stop, while the people around the two are trying to calm down the man.


The consensus among the younger generation of Korea is that these elders have too much entitlement. And so there is a certain degree of enmity between the younger Koreans and the older Koreans. Although many Koreans won't usually raise their voices to an elder, just like how they were taught in their 도덕 classes, they might whisper in their anger:

"와 저 틀딱충 진짜 너무하네." (Wow, that denture-clicking insect is just too much.)
"요즘은 틀딱이 벼슬이야." (Nowadays, clicking your dentures is a status symbol or something -- "벼슬" used to mean the status as a government official in Joseon Dynasty, but it makes more sense to translate this as a status symbol instead!)

As you can see, the word "틀딱" or "틀딱충" is an extremely derogatory term that refers to the elderly people (who behave in an entitled manner, or, in some annoying manner.) It comes from two Korean words "틀니" (dentures) and "딱딱" (onomatopoeia for click-clacking sounds).

Quite literally, the young Koreans are being derisive towards these older Koreans, who are often loud and vocal about not getting the treatment that they feel are entitled to, by evoking the imagery of dentures opening and closing, and making those clicking noises. And often, they add the suffix "-충," meaning "insect" (you can also say things like "맘충," those insects of mothers who don't take the time to educate their children.)

So, by calling an older person a "틀딱" or a "틀딱충," you are both making fun of the fact that they are old and obsolete (since they wear dentures), and the fact that they talk too much (since their dentures are making clicking noises).

You can even use this word to insult people even just a few years older than you (when they try to act like they are your elder), as a way of exaggerating, although if you use this word to someone in their twenties, say, it is no longer mortally offensive, as it would be if you said this word to a 70-year-old!

This means that you need to be very, very careful if you're using this word in real life. Sometimes, the older people do act terribly, and perhaps you feel that this is the only word you can use to insult them; however, you should brace yourself for the consequences, as it may very well backfire -- the bystanders might feel that you went too far, and side with the rude elderly person (such public humiliation!)

Unfortunately, judging by the viciousness of this word, all those ethics classes have done very little to the young generation of Koreans!

Monday, March 26, 2018

#119. 주작 -- God of lies

It is still snowing where I live. It has been a really long winter, and although I try, it is difficult to look upon the winter season with kindness when it has been dragging on for nearly six months. Save for the Christmas season, winter is the depressing time of the year where the land is barren and the weather harsh. It is something that you must prepare for during the happy and plentiful seasons of spring, summer, and autumn.

Did you ever stop to think that the House Stark is perhaps being a little unfair to winter?
Having lived in Korea, I can tell you that the winter in Korea is just as unpleasant as the winters anywhere else. However, the Koreans seemed to have made a valiant effort against the (well-deserved) notion of "winter sucks," and here is how:

The central idea behind the Daoist philosophy (in Korean, this is called the "도가 (Daoist) 사상 (philosophy)"), which is one of the ingredients that shaped the traditional Korean shamanistic beliefs, is that one must not struggle against what is natural. For example, getting old, dying, as well as the winter, is just a natural way ("도" in Korean) of life, and it is pointless to resist. Furthermore, by enduring and obeying the natural way, one eventually arrives at something positive, such as birth (many Koreans believe in the past life and rebirth to some degree!) or maybe even spring.

The Daoists presumably needed to come up with a simpler way to explain this idea to the laypeople (Daoism was born around 400 BC, by the way!) Their idea seems to have been that they would correspond a "mascot" to each of these ideas, and there won't be a preconceived positive or negative notions attached to these mascots.

They began by assigning a god to each direction. They assigned:

- "청룡", or a blue ("청", as in "청바지" meaning blue jeans) dragon ("룡", as in "공룡" meaning dinosaur) to the east;
- "백호", or a white ("백", as in "백조" meaning swan) tiger ("호", as in "호랑이" meaning tiger) to the west;
- "주작", or a red ("주", as in "주황색" meaning orange colour) bird ("작", as in "공작" meaning a peacock) to the south; and
- "현무", or a black turtle-snake (this imaginary animal is said to have the body of a turtle, and the face and the tail of a snake), to the north.

These mural paintings of the four gods are often found in the ruins and tombs of Goguryeo -- it is said that the Tang Dynasty sent some of its Daoist priests to Goguryeo as part of their diplomatic efforts.
These are called 사방신 in Korean, or four (사) gods (신) of directions (방) if you translate it. These gods not only guard the evils coming in from these directions, but they are also in charge of various other elements of life. For example:

- the 청룡, or the blue dragon (east), is in charge of spring, childhood, and the feeling of anger;
- the 백호, or the white tiger (west), is in charge of autumn, elderliness, and the feeling of sadness;
- the 주작, or the red bird (south), is in charge of summer, youth, and the feeling of happiness;
- the 현무, or the black turtle-snake (north), is in charge of winter, death, and the feeling of fear.

By using these imaginary animals, the Daoists tried to place the everyday occurrences on an equal footing, and emphasized that one is not superior than the other. Living through things as they come may have been easier with this analogy.

It is not a coincidence that the Korean flag is made up of the four colours of the four gods -- red, blue, black, and white.

You can find these gods everywhere in the Korean history. You may find some artwork that draws its motives from these four directional gods, or you may find some ornaments in the Korean architecture (almost like gargoyles) in their shapes. The people of Goguryeo used to paint these gods in the appropriate directions in their houses, in hopes that they protect their houses from all bad things that lurk outside.

However, in this age of the internet, the four gods are no longer on an equal footing. Instead, the 주작, the red bird of the south, the summer, and the youth, is more popular and better-known compared to the other gods, thanks to none other than StarCraft.

StarCraft, of course, could be the game that built the reputation of Korean gamers on the international stage. It was the game that everyone played since the 2000s, and the Korean gamers were the best in the world. Korea even had some betting sites, where you could bet on the outcomes of StarCraft games in the professional league.

In 2010, there was a huge scandal in the Korean gamers' community, where several professional gamers were bribed to rig the outcomes of the games (it seems that they were paid around $5000 USD per game). When this scandal, called "승부 (outcome) 조작 (rigging) 사건 (scandal)," came to light, it shook the Korean gamer community to the core. Several professional gamers were expelled from the gamers league on top of being indicted, at least eight professional teams disbanded, and StarCraft never regained its high level of popularity.

This is 마재윤 (Jaeyoon Ma), one of the professional StarCraft players who was involved in the 승부조작 scandal.
The expelled gamers received an unprecedented amount of hate from the Korean gamers, and it seemed unlikely that they will ever become professional again in any game whatsoever. However, one of the expelled gamers, 마재윤 (Jaeyoon Ma), shocked the Koreans by becoming a streamer via Afreeca (think of it as a precursor to YouTube streaming, as covered in a previous post).

When he started his streaming, the chatrooms were full of the words "조작 (rigging)," designed to insult him. For example, you could type something like
"이것도 조작이냐?" (Are you rigging this, too?)
whenever he did or said something.

Thankfully, as the streamer, he had some control of the chatroom, and he set the word "조작" as a "금지어" (forbidden "금지" word "어"), meaning that you would be banned from entering the chatroom again if you ever type this word.

So his viewers started coming up with clever ways to insult 마재윤. Instead of saying "조작," they started looking for words that sound similar to "조작." For example, a birch tree ("자작") was a popular choice, and one might have said something like:
"이것도 자작이냐?" (Is this a birch tree, too? -- meaning "are you rigging this, too?" with an intentional typo)
to avoid the auto-filter from booting you out of the chatroom. You might be even more roundabout by saying things such as:
"어디서 자작나무 타는 냄새가 나는것 같은데?" (I think I smell a birch tree burning? -- meaning "I think he's rigging this.")

Birch trees

When this caught on among his viewers, 마재윤 also set "자작" as a forbidden word. And thus began the game of hide-and-seek. 마재윤 sets a new forbidden word, and his viewers come up with yet another word that evoke the word "조작" in some way.

The most popular of these was "주작," the red bird of the south and the summer. In particular, the phrase
"날아오르라 주작이여" (Rise, O the red bird of the south -- meaning "lol, he definitely rigged this.")
became wildly popular on the internet, to the point where this phrase migrated beyond the chatroom of 마재윤's personal stream, into the general region of the Korean internet. Nowadays, it is actually more rare to see the word "조작" than "주작" when accusing someone of having made something up, or rigged something!

The font in this picture definitely has to be in 궁서체 -- see this post if you don't get the reference!

For example, if someone posts a tear-jerking story of their childhood, where they were raised by tigers and carried home by a stork when they were sixteen, people might type:
"주작을 하려면 좀 티가 안나게해라." (If you're going to make something up, at least make it less noticeable.)
or just simply:
"주작" (Red bird of the south, although it simply means "fake" in context.)
or, if you want to be particularly sarcastic:
"날아오르라 주작이여."
Interestingly, "주작" is a homonym -- it can mean a red bird (朱雀), but it can also mean "making something up" (做作), although the latter was a very old usage that was barely used prior to 마재윤's internet streaming! So, it is not incorrect to use the word "주작" for something that is fake, and this may be one of the reasons this expression caught on (but in this expression, the word "주작" definitely came from the red bird!)

The nuance of this word is definitely one of sarcastic humour. Not only are you accusing someone of having faked something, you are making fun of them by invoking the name of one of the four directional gods. Yet, as someone who spends way too much time on the Korean internet, the word "주작" almost feels more natural than "조작," and I always have to stop for a second to ensure that I am using the correct word ("조작") when I am speaking in a formal setting. I think that many Koreans would not even bother to stop and think, and just use the word "주작" in most settings!

Finally, to finish off the story of 마재윤, he also eventually set the word "주작" as a forbidden word. The Korean internet users continued to come up with new words (although none of them caught on quite like 주작), such as:

- 저작권 (copyright), 조직 (organization), for sounding similar to "조작 (rigging)";
-  백호 (white tiger), 청룡 (blue dragon), 현무 (black turtle-snake), for being the other three directional gods, and for reminding the viewers of the word "주작";
- 불사조 (phoenix), because a phoenix is another mythical bird;
- 여자친구 (girlfriend), because a girlfriend is also a mythical being among the Korean gamers;
- 전현무 (Hyunmoo Jeon, an anchorman whose first name is "현무", which reminds people of the black turtle-snake, and consequently of 주작), 노무현 (Roh Moo-hyun, a previous president of Korea, whose first name "무현" backwards "현무" is the black turtle-snake);
- 아나운서 (anchorman), because 전현무 was an anchorman, and he reminds people of "현무," which reminds them of "주작," which sounds like "조작."

This is 전현무, an ex-anchorman who now freelances as an entertainer.

All of these words were eventually set as forbidden words in 마재윤's streaming. He never gained popularity as a streamer anyway (as you can tell from the fact that his Instagram account has just 894 followers!) and he probably deserved that, first from his involvement in the rigging scandal, then from his ruthless filtering of his chatroom (although it ended up producing one of the most popular internet neologisms of this day!)

Anyway, that's the story of an ancient Korean god, whose name is still uttered by the Koreans millions of times each day. Does that please him? I am not sure, but I hope that he might be amused by the wittiness of the Korean internauts, and that he does not succumb to anger, in the true Daoist fashion where you just let things happen without fighting them.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

#104. A trilingual Korean joke (Hanja 3)

I saw the following photo (or , if you are fluent in Korean internet language) while browsing a Korean website. The poster of this image claims that this is a useful image to download onto your phone, and send it to whoever you are texting at an appropriate moment. Can you guess when you are supposed to send this photo? (answer below the image)

The answer is that you send this photo when someone is making excuses. To understand why, you need to be trilingual, amazingly.

The word "핑계" matches up with the background photo, which depicts a pink rooster. The letter "핑" comes from the English word "pink (핑크 in Korean)," and just taking the first letter from it. And the letter "계" comes from the Hanja meaning "chicken." As far as I am aware, the letter "계" does not refer to either the male rooster or the female hen.

The full name of this Hanja is . For an explanation of how Hanja works, see my first post on it!

This Hanja appears often enough in the Korean language that the Koreans would relate the letter "" to a chicken; I am not sure if I would have recognized this Hanja if someone just showed it to me, however. Some Korean words that use this Hanja letter include:

란 (literally, an egg of a chicken -- so it would be wrong to use this word for an ostrich egg, for example!)

- 삼탕 (Samgyetang, a Korean chicken stew, where you boil a whole chicken with various roots believed to be very good for your health)

- 군일학 (one crane among a group of chickens; this word is used to denote someone who is way above everyone else in a group)

So, a "핑계" could mean a pink chicken, because of this clever wordplay using Hanja. Of course, this is just slang, and a fairly minor one at that, almost like an English pun. The prevalent meaning of "핑계" that you can find in a dictionary is "excuses."

The next animal is fairly self-explanatory: a "돼지" is a pig. In this case, however, the Koreans noticed that "돼지" sounds almost like "대지," which is difficult to translate alone in English. The point of this substitution is that the above phrase becomes "핑계 대지 마," which means "don't make excuses." The word "대지," coming from the verb "대다 (to give, tell, or apply things such as excuses)," roughly corresponds to "make" in the above sentence.

And the final animal, which is a horse, comes with a single letter "마." This is another Hanja!

This Hanja, which you would learn sometime in elementary school in Korea, has the full name of . So it means a horse (), but it would be read as the letter "" in Korean. Some Korean words that include this Hanja are:

- 굿간: a stable (for horses)

- 출: to leave on a horse; however, nowadays, it means to become a candidate for an election, as all government officials going to work would have been riding their horses back in the olden days.

- 애: beloved horse (along with the Hanja 사랑 , meaning love); however, nowadays, this is a slang referring to your car. This slang has been used across all generations!

Anyway, putting all of these three photos together, we get:
"핑계 돼지 마" (pink chicken, pig, horse),
  which sounds nearly identical to
"핑계 대지 마" (don't make any excuses).
So, by the virtue of the fact that most Koreans will understand this short photo that incorporates all three languages (Korean, English, and Chinese/Hanja), the above photo becomes a witty internet .jpg file to use among the Koreans! Having spent a lot of my life in notoriously monolingual countries, I am occasionally blown away by just how non-monolingual the Koreans can be!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

#102. 병림픽 -- Battle of idiots

As a child living in South Korea, I was perpetually afraid of the Korean War II. I used to cry at night worried that North Korea will attack South Korea overnight, and that my family would be caught in the middle of it all without any preparations (this is how the first Korean war started -- North Korea invaded South Korea at 4am on June 25, 1950, and South Korea was not prepared for it at all.)

It also didn't help that instead of fire drills, schools used to have air strike drills. We were to hide under our desks, while the loudspeaker would announce possible scenarios about where the North Korean soldiers were, and what we were to do in these situations. Even as a young kid, I was pretty sure that hiding under our desks wasn't going to save us.

We used to call it "공습경보 훈련," and I guess Koreans still do this! (also effective for earthquakes, etc.)

In a sense, the recent events brought back those nightmares for me. While I was immensely relieved that my immediate family and I no longer live in Korea, I was extremely concerned and terrified about my extended family and friends, and all the other innocent Koreans who would be caught between the two nuclear powers -- North Korea and the United States.

But this time, it was frustrating to watch. As someone who really didn't want a war to break out, the exchange between Trump and Kim was terrifying to watch. Trump calls Kim a "Rocket Man," and Kim in turn condemns Trump to death. All the while, they are threatening to push the button. This may have been based in some politics, but to me, it felt stupid and reckless. And one comment I saw online deeply resonated with me. This Korean internet user wrote on one of the US/North Korea articles:
"병림픽이 따로 없네."
Here, "따로 없네" literally means "there is no other." So this above phrase says that there is no other "병림픽," or that whatever is going on between the US and North Korea is the very definition of "병림픽."

So let me explain the word "병림픽." I am normally offended by this word, which is a combination of the Korean insult "병신" and the English word "Olympics" (in Korean, the "s" in "Olympics" somehow got dropped, and Koreans write it as just "올림픽.")

Now, the word "병신" is frequently used in Korean profanity. If your friend asks out a girl who is way out of his league, and gets turned down in a spectacular way, you might say (in way of consolation)
"병신아, 아주 삽질을 했구나?" (You idiot, you totally wasted your time.)
In this usage, the word "병신" is just a friendly derogatory word, just like how you can insult someone without actually meaning it in English.

Now you must be able to guess that the word "병림픽" means an Olympic of the idiots, where two 병신s (in the lighter sense of the word) duel to see who is the bigger idiot (fairly appropriate in the case of Trump and Kim, and you can easily see cases like this in Korean life too, such as in the case of 현피).

However, the word "병신" actually has a clearly established meaning: it comes from two Hanja letters "병" (illness) and "신" (body), so it refers to a body with an illness; i.e. someone who is disabled. No one should use this word in its full meaning, as it is incredibly offensive. Technically, if someone could not walk, you could call them a "다리병신" (since "다리" means leg, it means that the person has an illness in his legs). But remember that "병신" is also an insult in Korean, so you are insulting a disabled person in the worst possible way. You will NEVER see a Korean use such a word in real life (but you might see it in K-drama, or in some old literature, where this usage seems to have been more common, before the word "병신" became a widespread insult.)

And this original meaning of the word "병신" makes the meaning of the slang "병림픽" incredibly offensive. My issue with the word "병림픽" is that in the literal sense of the word, it is in fact synonymous with the Paralympic games.

Here's one other instance where you can definitely use the word "병림픽," to talk about that Olympic game where the figure skater Yuna Kim lost to Adelina Sotnikova. Koreans were so enraged, and I think they still are.

It seems that the Korean population is divided on this issue; some people will be very offended for the same reason that I just explained. But some argue that the word "병신" is not being used to describe the handicapped, and that one should not even be thinking about this real meaning.

In any case, I would refrain from using this word around most Koreans. Among close friends (who you know are foul-mouthed) I can see it being OK; but I would use this word with extreme caution.

In closing, here's a fun fact. The Chinese calendar uses sixty different words to describe each year (these words cycle, so the same name is given to different years spaced 60 years apart.) By this calendar, the word given to the year 2018 is "무술" ("무" means "yellow" and "술" refers to "dog", hence the year of the "yellow (golden) dog.") Similarly, 2017 was 정유년 (year of "red rooster") and 2016 was, amazingly, "병신년" (the year of "red monkey.")

But of course, the more common usage of the word "병신" is the insult for disabled people. To make matters worse, the word "년" has two common meanings; it can refer to the year, but it is also a derogatory suffix for a woman, so that "미친년" is a "crazy b-tch," and "짜증나는년" is an "annoying b-tch." And what was supposed to be "the year of red monkey" because "disabled b-tch." So, 2016 was an interesting year for the Koreans!

Koreans waited for 2016 just for this. It says "We have entered 2016, the year of the monkey," but of course, the more common meaning is "We have entered 2016, the year of the crazy b-tch."

Although the word "병신" have absolutely nothing to do with the insult "병신"as they are based on different Hanja, the Koreans didn't miss this funny coincidence. Not only that, 2016 was the year of the Olympics in Rio, so this Olympic Games was dubbed "병림픽." I guess this is one of the reasons I can't stay away from the Korean internet. They can be ridiculously politically incorrect, but at least you can count on them to be witty and hilarious!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

#99. 시월드 -- Your in-law problems, and how a traditional Korean marriage works

As a young child in Korea, it was a normal occurrence for me to go visit a friend's house, and to realize that she lived with her parents and her grandparents (and in exceptional cases, also with her great-grandparents!) Some of these grandparents doted on their grandchildren and their friends, resulting in many sweets and head-patting. Others were more strict and wanted to make sure that we finished our homework, that my parents knew where I was, and that I was well-mannered (resulting in scoldings when they felt that my manners weren't good enough).

They might all live in the same house, and this is not weird at all by the Korean standards.

From the Western perspective, this must seem very odd, to say the least. I can't think of a single friend from the Western culture who lives with his grandparents. From the parents' perspective, this is even weirder -- I mean, this is equivalent to being supervised by their parents all the time when you are on a date, even when you become an adult!

Yet this used to be the norm in Korea until recently; we even have words to describe such families. We call them "대가족," meaning "large family" (in Hanja, "대" means large; you should see this letter on your large t-shirts, for example.) On the other hand, the Western-style small families are called "핵가족," which comes directly from the English phrase "nuclear family," consisting only of the two parents and their children.

While the number of nuclear families, or 핵가족, is on the rise, it seems unlikely that the 대가족 will ever disappear completely in the Korean society. And my personal theory is that a part of the reason is because the Koreans view a marriage differently from the Westerners.

This is probably what English-speakers think of when they hear the word "family."

For the Koreans, a marriage is not only a union between two individuals, but really a union of two families. This is of course true everywhere, but in the ancient dynasties before the modern Korea, this idea was taken to the extreme. There were many different castes in all of these dynasties, and marriages were permitted only between those within the right castes; you had to go to an extreme to gain an exception to this rule.

Therefore, it was common for the parents to do extensive research into the family of their child's potential match to ensure that their family was approximately on par with them in terms of values, social class, education, and wealth. This custom continues into today's Korean wedding, and it is now called a 상견례 (in Hanja, it means to see "견" each other "상" with decorum "례"). Once a couple starts to talk about getting married, their first step is to arrange a place (usually a fancy restaurant) for their families to meet. Korean customs seem to dictate that the male pays for this meal (important later). It is absolutely forbidden to talk about worldly things such as money. It is mostly used to get a feel for each other's family, and nothing important is said at this meeting.

A Korean drama portrays a 상견례.

 If one (or both) of the families find the other to be unsatisfactory, they will voice their concerns to the child about to get married, and some marriages are broken up at this stage. Otherwise, the real wedding planning is underway -- the two families agree on the date and the place of the wedding (many families will actually consult a shaman to find an auspicious date, or in extreme cases, to make sure that the two children are suitable for each other, but this is a story for another day!) and now they must talk about money -- that distasteful thing not suitable for any polite company. Naturally, the two children become the messengers of the two families.

The biggest worry for the newlyweds is to find a place to live. Nowadays, living in Seoul is your best bet for a decent job. Unfortunately, salaries are low and housing costs are high in Seoul. Almost no young couple can afford buying a house in Seoul. And it is not unusual for the parents to chip in a significant amount of money to help them buy an apartment. Traditionally, it is the groom's family that are responsible for the house (a quick explanation is that in the Korean male-dominant philosophy, the woman becomes a member of the man's house when she marries him; therefore, the man's family is responsible for the house.) This puts a huge burden on the groom's family, and the parents might be looking into spending their retirement savings to be able to afford a house (important later).

Every newlywed dreams of a beautiful honeymoon house (신혼집), and matching furniture (혼수) to go with it. Most Westerners work towards it, while many Koreans expect to have it ready before the wedding.

It should be noted that it is very rare for the Korean children to live away from their parents -- Korea is a small country, so often moving away from home means you move within an hour's radius of your parent's place, which is not strictly necessary. Furthermore, this is how the traditional Korean society operated -- the children live with their parents at least until they marry. This means that when the couple finds a home, they have no furniture. Since the groom bought the apartment, the bride supplies all the furniture that goes into the apartment. This furniture is called "혼수." Of course, the furniture is much cheaper than a house (important later).

Once all of this is settled, the bride sends some gifts to the groom's family (remember, a marriage is a union of families, so it is not enough to exchange things -- a house and furniture -- between the bride and the groom). This gift from the bride, which is the dowry, is called "예단." Traditionally, the groom's family would send some silk to the bride's house, and the bride would then sew up the silk and make clothes for the groom and his parents (and this served as a further test that the bride was fit to be married!) Nowadays, the bride sends some cash (a few thousand US dollars to tens of thousands of dollars is fairly common) along with beddings, traditional Korean clothes, and other expensive items such as jewellery, watches, or designer handbags for the groom's parents. These are all wrapped in a beautiful traditional papers and sent to the groom's parents.

An example of 예단 -- the bride's family sends these beautiful gifts to her in-laws as dowry, in hopes that the bride will be treated well in her new family.

The groom's parents then return a subset of these gifts (usually around half of the cash) to the bride's parents, for her efforts in sewing the clothes and the bedding (of course, the bride doesn't actually sew anymore). By the way, the list of items for the 예단 and how much will be returned is determined in advance, communicated through the couple to be married. While it seems unnecessary, the traditional Korean wedding tends to have a lot of items on its checklist. And another step of the wedding is complete.

Finally, the bride and the groom agree on the presents for themselves -- their wedding rings (Koreans often skip the engagement rings, and wear a single ring only after the wedding. If the engagement starts with a 상견례, you can imagine that it is not as romantic as a wedding proposal!), and possibly a few more items depending on what they decide to do. The families also pay for this if the couple do not have enough money saved, and these gifts are called "예물." As the bride already paid her dowry, typically the bride receives twice or three times as many 예물 as the groom.

While there are often no engagement rings, the bride receives many beautiful gifts during this stage of the wedding preparations.

If you think that there is a lot of unnecessary money involved, you would be right. And a lot of it will be paid by the parents, as the newlyweds seldom have a large saving. As there is no love connecting the families of the bride and the groom, the families are often doing their own accounting at this point.

At the actual wedding ceremony itself, the money-counting continues. It is customary in Korea to try to attend most weddings that you are invited to. As a wedding gift, you give some amount of cash called 축의금, equaling about 50 USD or 50,000 Korean won (more if you're very close to the couple, less if you barely know them). The catch here is, you are expecting the couple to attend your wedding at a later date, and that the couple will return exactly what you have paid. Similarly, the parents of the couple will also invite their friends, and these friends are either repaying the parents from their children's wedding, or expect the parents to return the money later at their children's wedding. All of these 축의금 are meticulously recorded and sorted, and returned to the right recipients (in some cases, it is not the couple, but their parents!)

There are a few more money-exchanging steps after this -- a 폐백 after the ceremony (where the bride presents the parents of the groom with some food, and her in-laws thank her with some cash), and then the newlyweds bring back expensive gifts from their honeymoon trip.

Traditionally, you write "축의금" in Hanja on the envelope, but you can also write a short congratulatory message instead.

When you make a grand tally of what the families spent, you will notice that the groom's family comes out short. The housing is so expensive that it trumps any other expenses incurred during the process of the wedding. Now, after a long period of preparing for the Korean wedding (a large part of which is the money-counting), the groom's parents have a lot more that they hope to recover to make things fair. And this triggers what the modern Korean brides call a 시월드.

There is no such thing as free lunch. And for the most part, the groom's parents do not buy their son a house for free. They expect their son to repay their monetary contribution with filial piety (terrible English translation in my opinion), or 효도, which is an idea from Confucianism. It means that they are counting on their son to support them materialistically (via money, gifts, by helping them out with various chores around the house, and ultimately, living with them and taking care of them when they are old and helpless) and emotionally (by lending a sympathetic ear, or by gladly being there for them.) And the bride, having been the recipient of their monetary generosity, is on the hook too. Plus, the bride is not even their own child, so the bride often ends up feeling the brunt of the expectations from the groom's parents, who would rather expect the 효도 from the bride than their own son.

The most common form of 시월드 is asking the bride to take care of all the housework in place of the elderly parents of the groom when the newlyweds visit the groom's house.

This feeling of stress and isolation of the bride gave rise to the neologism "시월드." The letter "시" comes from the fact that almost every appellation of the groom's family by the bride begins with the word "시." The groom's mother is "시어머니" to the bride; the groom's father is "시아버지"; the groom's family is "시가" or "시댁"; the groom's younger siblings are "시동생" to the bride, and so on. So when the bride visits the groom's family, she is entering a 시-world, or 시월드 in full Korean. For the most part, 시월드 ends with the bride feeling stressed or isolated; for some families, it is taken to the extreme where the bride is downright bullied.

For example, a 시어머니 might want the bride to come over at 7am on a weekend so that she can learn to cook the groom's favourite dish from his mother (so that the mother no longer has to cook for her son -- the bride is taking over one of her duties, thus engaging in an act of 효도). The bride obviously doesn't want to go, as she would rather spend the day sleeping in with her groom, but the 시어머니 could be insistent, and as the bride owes her, she feels obliged to go. She might complain to a friend:
"시월드때문에 늦잠도 못자고 정말 힘들어." (I'm so tired from not being able to sleep in, thanks to my mother-in-law.)
 Or, a 시어머니 might pay a surprise visit to the newlywed's home, and nag the bride for not having done the laundry (although she should really nag her own son!) The bride's friend, upon hearing about it, might tell the bride:
"웰컴투 시월드." (Welcome to the world of the in-laws.)
Notice that "시월드" sounds exactly like "sea world" which is probably some fun water-themed amusement park. Of course, the "시월드" is also fun. This word reflects the younger, trendier generation's disdain for the traditional Korean marriage, and how they cope with it by bringing some humour into the situation in a typical Korean way.

The brides seem to feel the most abandoned when their husbands don't step in to rescue them from the 시월드.

Furthermore, as a composite of a Korean prefix "시-" and the English word "world," the Koreans are creating a type of word that does not exist in the proper Korean language! These words are often humorous in nuance, and "시월드" is no exception. This word, from its unusual combination of two languages that did not meet until the 20th century, takes on the nuance of sarcasm and satire.

The best part about this word is that it is not vulgar at all (albeit offensive to the in-laws!) So the Korean media has picked up on this word, and they will sometimes use it to describe the conflict between the in-laws and the bride! As long as you do not use it to your in-law's face, this word is fairly safe to use.

While this custom is the traditional Korean way to get married, I am not really a fan of it. I personally feel that going through this lengthy process of keeping scores and counting contributions will sour the love held between the couple. This also highlights the sexism that is still rampant in the Korean society -- if there were no pre-defined gender roles within the marriage, things would have been more equal!

Furthermore, some people get the wrong idea that the more the groom's family pays for a wedding, the more his family is entitled to the near-bullying towards the bride. In my opinion, some Koreans end up putting a price on something that should never be evaluated.

As a result, many young Koreans are beginning to exclude their families from paying for any part of their new lives as a married couple. This trend of "반반결혼" or "half-half marriage," where the couple splits all the expenses in half, is gaining popularity, and might one day be the norm in the Korean society. I have a feeling that I would be happy to see this change.