Wednesday, July 31, 2019

#130. Six more words with Japanese origin that you shouldn't use in Korea

It looks like the trade war is getting worse and worse, and it looks like the Koreans are really planning to make the Japanese boycott a long-term thing! I figured that I should also do my part by completing the second part of the blog post on the Korean words of Japanese origin.

Without further ado, here they are:

6. 쇼부(勝負, しょうぶ) --> 승부, 흥정 (to decide the winner for once and for all; to negotiate)

As I reflect on the correct translation of this word, I realize that this word is super interesting! The word "쇼부" simultaneously refers to the outcome, and the process of negotiation. Perhaps the Koreans (and maybe the Japanese too, although I don't speak enough Japanese to know!) saw winning and losing as a fluid thing; it's not just that there's a winner, they're also speaking about the process to determine the winner, and according to the Koreans, the process is just as important as the outcome!

So, for example, in a seven-game playoff final, two teams are currently tied at 3-3. As you walk into the stadium to watch the last game, you could tell your friends,
"드디어 오늘은 쇼부를 보겠군." (Finally, today, we get to see who comes out to be the winner.)
What you should be saying instead.

Or, two of your friends always brag about who is faster at that 100m dash. You have had enough of it, and you arrange for an actual match to take place; to convince the two friends to come and battle it out, you probably told them:
"맨날 싸우지만 말고 제대로 쇼부를 봐." (Stop fighting all the time, and let's see for ourselves who is faster.)
In a completely different context, you could be at a traditional market, and you're engaged in a back-and-forth price negotiation with a merchant. You want the item for $5, the merchant wants $10. You could suggest:
"7달러로 쇼부보는거 어때요?" (How about we negotiate and shake hands at $7?)
Interesting that in this case, there would be no winner, but that you can still use this word!

While this word doesn't have a great alternative in Korean, we can try to fix them: I would say
"드디어 오늘은 결과를 알 수 있겠군." (Finally I will know the outcome of this match)
"맨날 싸우지만 말고 제대로 한 번 겨뤄봐." (Instead of just arguing with words all the time, you should actually compete against each other.)
"7달러에 합의를 보는것 어때요?" (Let's agree on $7?) 

7. 땡땡이무늬 (てんてん(点点)) --> 물방울무늬 (polka dots)

So, usually I feel that the Korean language is richer than the English language, in the sense that I often come across the Korean words with no English translations, but not the other way around. The word "땡땡이무늬" is an exception; I don't think that there's a pure Korean word (of non-Japanese origin) that can accurately represent "polka dots." This word is also full of contradictions that confuse me to no end; allow me to explain.

Suppose that you have a random question that you want to ask your friend. The dialogue might go like this:

Me: 나 어제 무슨영화 봤게? (Guess what movie I watched last night?)
Friend: 음... 해리포터? (Hmm... Harry Potter?)
Me: 땡! (Wrong!)

I actually re-watched Scream last night. Not that you care.

Anyway, the word "땡" (spoken forcefully and loudly, to express the glee you feel when someone gets something wrong) means "wrong." In my head, it's onomatopoeic for that quiz-show buzzer that goes off when you get a question wrong (in Korea, often a single ring of a xylophone is used for an incorrect answer).  Of course, if we were grading an exam paper in Korea, a correct answer (you can say "딩동댕" because correct answers get three xylophone rings) is marked with a circle, and a wrong answer with a backslash (/, "땡!").

Nonetheless, the word "땡땡이무늬" means polka dots, and not backslashes.

I guess this is because in Japanese, the word "ten ten" (てんてん(点点)) means a small circular shape. And "무늬" just means "patterns." So, if you want to compliment your coworker's polka dot dress, you say:
"그 땡땡이무늬 드레스 진짜 잘 어울려." (That polka dot dress really suits you.)
So, in order to properly boycott Japanese, we would have needed a pure Korean word to replace "땡땡이" with; the Academy of the Korean Language suggests "물방울무늬" (waterdrop pattern). Perfect little circles aren't the first shapes that I think of when I hear "waterdrop," but I guess as the Korean say:
"이가 없으면 잇몸으로라도 살아야지." (If you don't have teeth, you make do with just your gums)

The popular Korean dish made from Tofu, eggs, meat, and vegetables, "동그랑땡" (Circular 땡; circle circle?) probably also comes from Japanese. I am completely lost on how to boycott the Japanese in this word, unfortunately! 

As a final parting thought, "skipping classes" in Korean is "땡땡이 치다." I'm pretty sure that this has no connections to the polka dots, though!

8. 스시 (寿司) --> 초밥 (sushi, vinegary rice)
사시미 (刺身) --> 회 (sashimi)

Here's  a quick one: "sushi," or "스시" when written in Korean, is Japanese. That is definitely not surprising, but the Koreans also have a pretty commonplace word to replace "sushi." Instead of saying "스시," you can say "초밥."

"초" means vinegar ("식초"), and "밥," of course, is just rice. If you want to say salmon sushi, you say "연어초밥."

Similarly, "sashimi" is definitely Japanese, and Koreans instead say "회." If you want sashimi pieces out of red snapper (도미), you can say
"도미회 주세요." (Could I have some red snapper sashimi, please?)

9. 밧데리 --> 배터리, 건전지 (batteries)

The word "battery" is, of course, not Japanese. However, the Korean language evolved so quickly that you need to be careful even with the words of English origin! Some of these words coming from English were actually originally pronounced with a Japanese accent.

The word "밧데리" is a great example; the older generation, being much more familiar with Japanese (due to the colonial era, and the fact that the students were forced to study in Japanese), pronounced the word "battery" as "밧데리." This pronunciation is frowned upon, unless you're 70 years old or more. The word "밧데리" carries a negative connotation because of its association with Japanese, but also it feels OLD. Only the older people would use it; if you were writing a novel set in the 1960s, using this word would give a great feeling for the era.

Interestingly enough, although there is a Korean word for battery ("건전지"; dry power source), the word "배터리" is just as common, and comes with no negative connotation!

Here are some other words that can be pronounced with a Japanese accent, and a more acceptable way of saying them:

- extract: 엑기스 (Japanese pronunciation of "ex") --> 농축물
- running shirt: 난닝구 (Japanese pronunciation of "running") --> 런닝 셔츠
- sweatpants: 츄리닝 (Japanese pronunciation of "training") --> 트레이닝복
- overcoat: 오바 (Japanese pronunciation of "over") --> 코트
- salad: 사라다 (Japanese) --> 샐러드
- stainless steel: 스뎅 (Japanese pronunciation of "stain") --> 스테인레스 스틸
- dozen: 다스 (Japanese) --> 열두개 (12)

Fascinating that the Koreans differentiate between two foreign languages; they seem to be living the motto "Japan bad, America good." This, of course, reflects our history.

10. 기스 (きず) --> 흠, 긁히다

Still commonly used among even the younger Koreans, this word is often used to describe a new object (such as a car or a phone) being scratched. For example, you can say:
"어제 주차하다가 차가 담벼락에 닿아서 기스가 났어." (Yesterday I scratched my car while parking, because I scraped my car against a wall.)

"핸드폰을 떨어뜨렸는데 다행히도 기스가 좀 난 것 이외에는 작동에 문제가 없어." (I accidentally dropped my phone, but aside from some scratches the phone is working fine.)
Here's a photo of a 기스-less phone!

The word "きず" means a "scar" in Japanese, so it feels quite appropriate for the situation that we're trying to describe; however, it is preferable to use a Korean word. You can instead say:

"어제 주차하다가 차가 담벼락에 닿아서 좀 긁혔어."
"핸드폰을 떨어뜨렸는데 다행히도 본체에 흠이 좀 난 것 이외에는 작동에 문제가 없어." 
Currently, even the younger Koreans are using the word "기스" from time to time, but I do think that the Koreans are aware of the fact that this word is Japanese, and they would appreciate the effort of not using the Japanese word.

11. 구라 (晦ます)--> 거짓말 (lies)

This one is a bit complicated; people don't all agree that this word came from Japanese, but the evidence feels compelling enough to me that I have decided to include it in my blog.

There are two Japanese words that begin with gura-: One is "晦ます (くらます), guramasu," meaning "to disappear, or to deceive the observers." The other is "グラサイ, gurasai" which means a loaded die.

In Korean, "구라" means "to lie." For example, when you're sure that someone is exaggerating and lying, you can call them out by saying:
"구라치지마" or "구라까지마" (Don't lie).

This Korean celebrity's name is "김구라," or "Gura Kim." Of course, this is a stage name, probably chosen intentionally. 

Of course, this word is easy to fix without sacrificing much of the nuance. You can say instead:
"구라" is a bit more colloquial, but the nuance is uncomplicated, and you lose almost nothing by replacing "구라" with "거짓말" anywhere. So you can also say:
"거짓말치지마" or "거짓말까지마,"
although it is grammatically incorrect.

And that's it! As always, thank you for reading, and for waiting for new posts. My blog must be the most delinquent blog in terms of updates, and I am always grateful when I see that people still visit my blog :)

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, July 28, 2019

#128. Korea vs. Japan -- five words you shouldn't use in Korea right now (or ever)

Disclaimer: I tried to be as fair as possible in this post, but of course, I do have Korean heritage, nor do I speak Japanese, so I imagine that my post leans towards the Koreans. I welcome any corrections or debates from those who are more familiar with Japan's point of view via comments, but please, let's stay civil!

Over the past couple of weeks, the tension between Korea and Japan has risen to an all-time high since the conclusion of the WWII. It seems to be a delicate issue that involves history, economy, and politics (involving North Korea, and more recently, the US, Russia, and China), and I don't really believe that it is my place to try to give an impartial explanation of what is happening. To tell a long story short, it seems to me that

- Japan restricted the export of some materials that are crucial to making smartphones (with Samsung, the semiconductor technology is one of the prides of the nation).

- Japan claims that this policy is necessary because they have reasonable fear of their material ending up in North Korea.

- However, the common consensus is that Japan is protesting against the recent Korean court ruling that Japan needs to pay more damages to the Korean "comfort women," who were young Korean girls (estimated to be around 100,000 - 200,000 in number) during the colonial period that were forced to provide sex to the Japanese soldiers around the world. So far, Japan has paid $2.4 billion USD in damages in today's currency (that's about $12,000 USD per person, adjusting for inflation and all). The South Korean court would like each of the surviving comfort women (only 10 now) to receive $134,000 USD.

- When Japan did not comply, the South Korean court ordered seizure on some Japanese companies (that have some history with exploiting the Koreans during the colonial period).

- There is a lot of old hostility between Korean and Japan; although Japan has issued apologetic statements in the past, many prominent Japanese politicians still seem to endorse Japan's actions during the colonial period, by either attending a ceremony at the Yasukuni shrine (which is dedicated to the Japanese war heroes, including those stationed in Korea during the colonial period) or donating to it. Shinzo Abe, the current prime minister of Japan, is one of those who have visited the shrine (and in 2013, out of 465 members of the Japanese parliament, 168 of them visited the shrine; now the number is slightly less, but still significant). So, the Koreans suspect that none of the apologies were made in earnest.

- When the news of Japanese sanctions spread, Korean netizens began making a list of Japanese companies, so that people could easily boycott Japanese products in retaliation. This includes clothes (Uniqlo), beer (Asahi), education (Kumon), cars (Toyota), and traveling to Japan. The current Korean sentiment is such that walking into a Uniqlo store or posting a photo of your Japan travels on Instagram would earn you a lot of stares and whispers. Many people are canceling their trips to Japan, and some gas stations are refusing to refuel Japanese cars.

Given the current sentiments, I thought that I would try to make a list of five commonly spoken Korean words that come from Japanese. Many of these words are implicitly forbidden on Korean TV, so you often see Korean celebrities using these familiar words, then quickly correcting themselves (then look appropriately chagrined). 

1. 오뎅 (おでん) ---> 어묵 (fishcake). 

In Japan, おでん, or "Oden" means a soup with fishcake as its main ingredient. When the word came to Korea, it degenerated to mean just the fishcake (so you could have an 오뎅볶음, which is stir-fried Oden, which wouldn't really make sense in Japanese!) While every Korean would understand what you mean if you used the word "오뎅," thanks to the efforts of the Koreans, this word is becoming old, in the sense that only the older population that lived during the colonial era (and maybe their children, who are all in their late 50s and up) use it.

I can imagine that in another few decades, this word might completely disappear from the Korean dictionary!

2. 와사비(わさび) ---> 고추냉이 (wasabi, horseradish)

This is another word that Koreans make a huge effort to abolish, perhaps because the word "wasabi" sounds SO Japanese! Funnily enough, horseradish and the plant that makes wasabi (E. Japonicum) is different from horseradish (E. Pseudowasabi). But the Academy of the Korean Language suggested this substitution in place of 와사비, and the use stuck, albeit somewhat clumsily.

Random fun fact: Koreans claim that when the effect of wasabi is particularly strong, you can bonk yourself at the top of your head (called 정수리 in Korean) and the spiciness will go away. I've never tried, but...

3. 땡깡(てんかん) --> 생떼 (childish insistence, unreasonable insistence, often accompanied by temper tantrum)

So, this word doesn't seem to exist in English. The word "땡깡" is often used towards children, for example, when they REALLY REALLY want that stupid toy from the supermarket, and you have no intention of buying them. They'll probably pull on your shirt, cry, beg, scream, and just be consistently annoying, and you might say,
"땡깡부리지 마" (Stop being such an annoying child, and stop asking for the toy, because you're being ridiculous).
Yes, the translation is really long, it's obviously not literal, but I'm trying to convey what the word means. Of course, you can use it to that one annoying friend who always wants to have her way (and throws a tantrum when she doesn't get it).

This word, on top of being Japanese in origin, is translated in poor taste. The more literal translation of the above sentence would actually be "don't throw a fit", and this is because the Japanese word てんかん (Tenkan) means "epilepsy." Instead, you can say
"생떼부리지 마."
Although it means almost the same thing in Korean (although it's slightly less derogatory since the implication that the listener is a child is a bit weaker), it has the added advantage that it doesn't refer to epilepsy!

4. 유도리 (ゆとり) --> 융통성 (flexibility)

We've probably all had that one professor who would not grant an extension on your homework under any circumstances, even if you were legitimately ill and had to be hospitalized. In Korean, you can describe that professor by saying
"그 교수님 정말 유도리없네" (That professor is not flexible at all)
This common expression, even used among the younger Koreans, comes from the Japanese word ゆとり(yutori), meaning "having a bit of extra" (the corresponding Korean word would be 여유, the direct translation of which does not exist in English). 

In PSY's Gangnam Style, there's a line that goes "커피 한잔의 여유를 아는 품격있는 여자." It translates to the fact that he likes the "classy women who can enjoy the break that comes with a cup of coffee."
To avoid the Japanese usage, simply replace "유도리" with "융통성," which means exactly the same thing, and you can say

"그 교수님 정말 융통성 없네."

5. 삐까번쩍 (ぴかりと) --> 번쩍번쩍 (Shiny, new, impressive)

If you showed up to work with a shiny new car (especially an expensive-looking sports car), your coworkers would likely stand around your car and exclaim,
"와, 새차라 그런지 진짜 삐까번쩍하네" (Wow, it's probably because it's new, but what a shiny impressive car!)
 Often used among the middle-aged men (the 아저씨s of Korea) but also used, although infrequently, among the younger generation, this word serves as half-exclamation and half-description. You can use it to show your appreciation for objects that are literally or figuratively shiny (ぴかりと, picarito, light), but it implies that you were awed or impressed by the object as well.

This is a pretty shiny impressive building, so I'd say "와, 삐까번쩍한 빌딩이네" or "빌딩이 엄청 삐까번쩍하네" to express that I'm impressed (and that the building is shiny). Shiny things are usually impressive, right? Amazing that the Koreans have an adjective just for the shiny things...

Koreans suggest that you replace this word with "번쩍번쩍," which is an onomatopoeic word meaning "shiny." To me, it doesn't have the same nuance in terms of being in awe of the object. So for example, if you said
"새차가 번쩍번쩍하네." (The new car is shiny),
then you have just literally said that new cars are shiny. True, but what are you trying to say, exactly?

So I suggest supplementing it with more exclamations! For example, you can say:
"우와! 진짜 멋있다! 차가 막 번쩍번쩍하네!" (Wow, this is really impressive! Your car is like, shining like there is no tomorrow!)
and with these additional exclamations, you can get pretty close to the nuance of the original word!

Contrary to the usual words introduced in my blog, none of these words are offensive at all, and many Koreans use these words on a regular basis. Of course, the problem is precisely that these words are so commonplace; I think the Koreans really make an effort to abolish traces of Japanese in their language, but sometimes these words are so commonplace that we don't really think about where they come from.

You can check out more words of Japanese origin in the following post!

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!

Monday, September 3, 2018

#126. 오지지? -- Oh! GG, you are going to be awesome! (feat. Girls' Generation)

There is a saying among the Koreans that goes,
"패션은 돌고 돈다." (Fashion goes round and round)
While digging through old photos, you might have been shocked to realize that these people in your grandparents' generation did not dress so terribly, and that their clothing choice might not actually have been so bad, even for today.

Case in point: This photo was taken in Korea, in the 70s. I'd wear these clothes now!
 So, maybe a word of (bad) advice: save some of your favourite clothes for your grandchildren.

Anyway, it's not just fashion that gets recycled. Take the adjective "오달지다," for example. It describes either the extremely satisfied state of mind or the state of being very rich in content. This word is not used colloquially anymore, but you may read sentences like the following in a literary piece:
"사랑하는 그 사람을 생각하면 오달진 마음에 얼굴에 웃음꽃이 피어났다." (When I think of my loved one, smile would flower in my face from my happy contentedness.)

 In fact, the word "오달지다" sets the mood of the sentence, and I would guess that the writer of the sentence is "from the olden days." Not so old to be in the Joseon Dynasty, perhaps, but maybe a brooding writer from the sixties or seventies. If you change the word "오달진" to "행복한," then this mood disappears completely, and the sentence could have written by one of my friends (none of whom are brooding writers, as it happens).

However, the only way to use the fancy words in everyday life (without sounding like a pretentious jerk!) is to use them ironically. And this is exactly what happened with the word "오달지다." It had more or less lived out its life in the colloquial Korean in its original form; so the word got shortened to "오지다," and acquired a new use as an adverb. (This how languages develop; think about how the noun "Google" is now also a verb!)

Its meaning also simplified. The word "오지다" almost exclusively meant "rich in content without any weaknesses or holes," so you could replace the word "오지다" with "대단하다" in any context. For example, you could say:
"유정이는 일을 오지게 하네." (Yoojung REALLY works hard.)
That is, the adverb "오지다" emphasizes the verb that comes after it. And emphases usually have a way to twist their meaning into the sarcastic one.

So, the word "오지다" is used among the older Koreans to mean "amazing, but without any real gain." You will still hear some elders (mostly among those who speak a dialect; especially in the Jeolla Province) say things like:
"고생만 오지게 하고 얻은건 하나도 없다." (I REALLY went through a lot of hardship without any real gain.) 
"그때 부장님께 걸려서 오지게 혼났어." (I got caught by my manager, and I REALLY got reprimanded.) 

Or, one more:
"그 말 했다가 오지게 욕먹었어." (I REALLY got a lot of hate after saying it.) 
Among the older Koreans, the word "오지다" was both a popular slang of the 2000s that was used to emphasize a negative context, and a standard word in the dictionary (therefore, not terrible to use in polite company.)

In an interesting case of double irony, however, the younger Koreans in their teens recently picked it up. And if the adults are using it in a negative context, it must be really bad to use it to emphasize a positive context, right? (Kids are kids everywhere!)

So, for example, you can say something like:
"이번 소녀시대 티저 봤어? 분위기 오졌다!" (Have you seen the teaser by Girls' Generation yet? They look so BAD there!)
Beautiful as always, I hope they do well!

If you decide to use the word "오지다" in this context, keep in mind that you are using a phrase reserved for schoolchildren (whom you would derisively call 급식s). While it is not offensive in any way, some people might decide to form an opinion about you (maybe the opinion would be that you're up to date with the current words, or that you're not formal enough... who knows?)

If you want to be even more cool, you can go the full way and start rapping to a beat by setting up some rhyme. Some low-teens would say things like
"분위기 오졌고 지렸고 렛잇고" (The atmosphere here is really AMAZING),
where "지렸다" also means "awesome (so awesome that you peed in your pants)" and "Let it go" is the popular song from the Disney movie "Frozen" that happens to rhyme with "오졌고" and "지렸고." Some people would take it even further:
"오졌고 지렸고 렛잇고 알파고 포켓몬고..." (AMAZING AMAZING Let it go AlphaGo Pokemon Go...)
You can be creative with the Korean slang. The more creative, the better!
 This manner of speaking is called "급식체," by the way, in honour of the younger teens who use this the most frequently.

In closing, the reason I'm publishing this article today is because a unit from Girls' Generation is making a comeback tomorrow. Their unit is called Girls' Generation - Oh! GG. It's a perfectly reasonable name in English, because Oh! was one of their most well-known songs, and GG is abbreviation for Girls' Generation (and also Good Game, I guess, which they certainly had!)

But in Korean, Oh! GG is pronounced "오지지," which is a questioning form of "오지다." Girls' Generation is using 급식체 to ask us whether they are AMAZING, to which I am sure the answer will be "오지고 지리고 대단하고 멋있고!"

Also, thank you for being patient and for still visiting my blog. When I am away, I sometimes sign into my blog, totally expecting the visitor count to have dropped to zero, but I am always blown away by how many people still visit. Over the summer, I traveled to six different countries and three continents (mostly for work), and started a new job! Now that things are calming down a little, I hope to come back more regularly for posts, so stay tuned! I have missed you :)

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!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

#124. 불 -- The Korean dollar (Hanja 5)

Being a hobbyist blogger and also a perfectionist, sometimes it becomes really hard to focus on writing a post. On one hand, I really love blogging and want to be writing a post every day, but on the other hand, I should really focus on my career and work on my projects. Of course, I end up being overwhelmed and usually end up not accomplishing either of these.

Anyway, I'm trying to push a project to its end and ran into several snags, and I was mostly obsessing over those for the past couple of weeks (still not resolved). As writing a blog post and doing sufficient research for these posts takes up an entire evening of maybe 6 hours, I have been too intimidated to start writing a new post. But I don't want to put off posting forever, and here's a quick post.

In Czech Republic, there is a town named Jáchymov. Pre-WWII, the town was occupied by mostly German speakers (after 1945, the German population was driven away), and it had the German name of Joachimsthal. Going nuts on etymology today, Joachim is the father of the Virgin Mary (this makes him the grandfather of Jesus!) and "thal" in German means "valley."

Joachimsthal in the 19th century.
Nowadays, Jáchymov is a spa town, thanks to the radioactive thermal springs near the former Uranium mines. Even prior to the mining of Uranium (which is no longer done, since 1964), Joachimsthal had its fame as the silver mining town since the early 1500s.

Silver mined from this town was used to make currency for the Kingdom of Bohemia, of which Joachimsthal was a part of. This currency was called "Joachimsthaler" (a thing from Joachim's valley). Soon, many other silver mining towns were producing their own "thalers," and coins became known as "thalers." The thaler was used all throughout Europe for about four hundred years since its conception in the early 1500s. Of course, as you might be able to guess from here, this is the origin of our word "dollar."
Here is one of the earliest Joachimsthalers, in which Joachim is pictured on the front.

However, the Spanish Empire, instead of using the German thaler, made their own currency called "Peso de Ocho" (piece of eight, the eight comes from the fact that one peso de ocho was worth eight Spanish reales). One peso de ocho corresponded roughly to one German thaler, as they were both silver coins of similar size. Many people believe that the shorthand for "peso de ocho," written as pˢ, is what gives rise to our symbol for the dollar sign "$".

Weirdly enough, the story does not end here. If you have interacted with Koreans of any age, you might have noticed that Koreans rarely use the word "dollar (달러)" in their conversations. Instead, you will hear confusing expressions such as:
"야, 저 카페는 커피 한잔에 2불밖에 안해!" (Hey, that cafe sells coffees at 2 dollars!)
Even the young Koreans (myself included) often substitute the word "불" for "달러," and the reason for this is somewhat interesting. The Hanja for negation of verbs is the following:

This Hanja is called 아닐 , which means that it is pronounced as "" and means "아닐 (not)."
Perhaps you can guess where I am going with this already -- this Hanja looks a lot like the dollar sign "$" if you squint your eyes. So instead of calling the foreign currency "dollar," which is admittedly very different from the Korean phonics, the Koreans decided that they would use the more familiar word "불," and it stuck to this date. Maybe because of its predominant usage to denote the foreign currency, this Hanja is used almost nowhere else (yet every Korean knows this Hanja!)

It is difficult to find out when this usage started, or whether it was actually the Koreans who started this (it could very well be the Chinese, for example, and the Koreans could have just followed suit), but this usage is interesting to me for many reasons.

First, this usage feels incredibly old-fashioned -- even in the 90s, it was common to see Hanja characters in newspapers and literature to clarify certain words, but this has gradually fallen out of fashion nowadays. The fact that the Koreans are voluntarily bringing Hanja back to everyday conversation almost feels anachronistic, although the usage is so widespread.

Secondly, I feel that substituting the foreign word "달러" for the familiar word "불" shows the Koreans' aversion to change (to be fair, many nations and cultures dislike change; I'm not trying to single out Korea here, just that the Koreans are one of them!) and their struggle to fit in something they have never seen before into their world views. To me, this fits in with the foreign policies of the late Joseon dynasty, where the monarchs tried to shut the entire country against the foreign explorers, for the fear of the unknown.

This is 흥선대원군, the father of the last king of Joseon. Instead of his very young son, he ruled Joseon for many years. There are so many stories to tell on this guy, and I hope I'll eventually return to him one day!

In any case, I love it when I see a recognizable piece of history in our everyday language, and I like to think that this bizarre mutation of the word "달러" into "불" counts as one of these instances!