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The joy of Konglish (1)

2012/06/16 | 819 views |  | Permalink | Source

By Andrew Salmon

It has come to this columnist's notice that some expatriates are unfamiliar with common English expressions that hold a different meaning in Korea.

Moreover, many Korean words are misleadingly translated in various publications. To remedy this, I have drafted and translated/explained a selection of Konglish words and terms commonly encountered in conversation and/or in Korean media. Inverted commas "..." indicate separate entries.

Should any readers suggest lexis I have overlooked, please email the writer and I will endeavor to include suggestions in future updates.

America: Large country inhabited by Americans. Korea's main ally, yet also fair game for any "demonstrator" who fancies kicking up a ruckus in "Seoul".

Apartment: Ugly, numbered concrete abode, carefully designed to ruin landscapes.

Barbershop: Not a place for a haircut, nor a place to tell your wife you have visited, you filthy hound!

Blood:Red liquid that fills human bodies. Korean blood contains, according to some Koreans, particularly "liberals" and "progressives", a unique spirit, chemical or agent that non-Koreans can neither experience nor comprehend.

Beondaegi: Alarming, insectoid Korean equivalent of potato chips, albeit probably healthier.
Business card ― Not having a stack forever on your person is a cardinal sin.

Chaebol: Commercial groups that manufacture fine cars, gadgets and widgets, but whose aim is not to make profits for shareholders, but to control massive chunks of the economy and ensure ongoing control by their "chairmen" and their families.

Chairman: Aged, usually be-suited man who, with his family, controls a Korean "chaebol". Never spotted in public or at shareholder meetings but (allegedly) sometimes seen near law courts. Given that live sightings are rare and interviews unheard of, the "chairman" is considered an extinct, fictitious or legendary species by many foreign business journalists.

China: Large country to the east and north of the Korean Peninsula. Not to be criticized by media or demonstrated against in the same way that "America" or "Japan" are fair game.

Chip: Something that fits inside "chaebol" gadgets and is squid ― or smokey bacon-flavored. I think.

ChoJoongDong:Term grouping the three best selling Korean dailies the Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo. Considered scurrilous rags by "liberals" and threatened with bloody destruction by "Norks".

Coffee Shop: A franchised outlet serving the espressos, americanos, mochas, etc, which have, in recent years, replaced kimchi as the national bouquet of choice. Urban Koreans cannot get enough of these locations ― there is one every few meters in Seoul ― but rural Koreans live without them ― try and find a franchise coffee shop in anything but the largest town.

Correct history: Korean version of history. Educational institutes, quasi-governmental organizations, NGOs and local media promote this to anyone who will listen and to many who would rather not.

Cosmetic surgery:If you wonder why so many 21st century Korean females look like they hail from Latin America rather than Asia ― this is why.

Coup d'etat: Activity popular among Korean generals, pre-1990s.

Cow: Bovine creature whose delicious flesh, alas, can only be afforded by the top 0.01 percent of Korean society.

Darth Vader: Fictional science fiction villain who obviously based his hat upon designs sported by Korean riot cops.

Demonstration: Clamorous but charming Korean entertainment dating back to pre-leisure industry days. Still popular in select spots in central Seoul.

Demonstrator: One who "demonstrates". Often a "farmer", "liberal" or student.

Dividends: In capitalist economies: The money a company returns to its owners when it makes profits. In Korea: Rapacious extortion of capital and barrier to "long-term management".

Doenjang and gochujang: Tremendous stuff that should be the Korean culinary flagship, a role that is, instead, held by "kimchi". Slather jang liberally over everything you eat: It is an excellent accompaniment to cheese; you can it as a pizza paste or sandwich filler, a dip, a flavoring agent in stews and gravies, etc. It's even good for you!

Dog: For the young generation: canine pet. For the old generation: dinner.

Dokdo: Two rocks in the "East Sea" garrisoned by Korean cops but claimed by Japanese nationalists. Frequently features in "demonstrations" and likely cause of future war ― it's only a matter of time.

Doumi: Scantily clad, shapely maiden hired to gyrate and gesticulate during sales promotions. A brilliant Korean marketing ploy that, sadly, has not taken off in the West.

Dynasty: Broad Korean historical period (Silla, Goryeo, Joseon, etc). Useful for those who can't remember dates.

Eat and run: Repatriation of profits. Term usually leveled against foreign investment funds and financial institutions whose Korean operations have proved lucrative.

East Sea: What persons who have not learned "correct history" and other dolts, neo-colonialists and militarists insist on calling the "Sea of Japan".

Education: Hellish rite-of-passage endured by Korean children. Things improve hugely for the traumatized survivors once they enter a "university".

Election:: Opportunity for dubious and egotistical individuals to slander one another.

Embassy: Spot near which lucky tourists may view a Korean "demonstration". Japan's embassy is the favored site in Seoul.

Excessive Profits: A term un-defined by mathematicians or economists, but widely bandied about by editorial writers and NGOs to describe the money some foreign investors make in Korea. Not leveled against local companies.

Farmer: Someone who is good at "demonstrations" but whose day is numbered.

Fashion victim: Something no old generation Korean was, but every young generation Korean is.

Five to nine: Customary Korean working hours. Equivalent to "9-to-5" elsewhere.

Free trade agreement: According to "liberals", cover for a crafty ploy to destroy and/or colonize.

Andrew Salmon is a Seoul-based reporter and author. His latest work, "Scorched Earth, Black Snow", was published in London in June. Reach him at This is the first installment of a two-part series.

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