Sling around some Korean Slang

Written by on March 24, 2014 in Lifestyle

I overheard ajummas on the bus talking about a group of middle-schoolers who just had gotten off: “I didn’t understand a word of what they said.” Not surprising, because the teens’ conversation had been peppered with lots of slang; not just spoken slang, but also netspeak, which they had incorporated into their dialogue. What I found interesting was that even the ajummas’ conversation had been full of slang; it was just different from what the kids were using.
You cannot live without slang. It’s a part of everyday life. Language evolves endlessly with society, and at this fast pace of emerging new trends and social patterns, it is inevitable that language evolution picks up speed as well. The internet and various smart phone services provided new means of communication which in turn created the need for new words. As they are not officially recognized and are not in a “proper” dictionary (yet), the new words are just considered slang for now.
Most Korean slang words follow the same formula of contraction. In general, many expressions are shortened versions of several words; mostly a composition of the first syllable of each word used. 셀카(selca), meaning selfie, is a merge of 셀프(self) and 카메라(camera), for example. [Check out Jessica Steele’s post about “selca”.] This method is used in proper words as well: 홍대(Hongdae) = 홍익 (Hongik) + 대학교(daehakgyo/university). Names of places are often shortened this way in conversation: 고터(goteo) =고속버스(gosokbus/express bus) +터미널(terminal). Then there are other slang words which are newly constructed with either prefixes or suffixes, such as 귀요미(gwiyomi/cutie pie). [Jessica also wrote about gwiyomi.]

Here are some other good-to-know slang words:

Yoona of SNSD sang about in “I got a Boy”. Photo: SM Town

Yoona of SNSD sang about in “I got a Boy”. Photo: SM Town

멘붕(menbung): Mental breakdown
멘탈(mental) + 붕괴(breakdown, collapse)
When it all comes down and you can’t handle it anymore, this is what happens. Like when you realize your favorite K-pop idol is in a relationship or when your ship sinks way, way, down in the TV drama series you’re watching or when the team you’re rooting for loses by a buzzerbeater or when you spend hours and hours writing and then your computer breaks down and you find out your backup file is also corrupted. 멘붕!
This word has been around for quite a while. It has become so common that it is used in all types of media. Many K-pop songs actually have them in their lyrics, and it is highly likely that your grandma would be using it, too.

썸남(somenam) and 썸녀(somenyeo): The guy and gal with something
썸(some) + 남(man/guy) and 썸(some) + 녀(woman/gal)
Have you got that something? Or have you met someone who has got that something? Someone who makes your heart go flutter with something? That something which is just utterly so something that you feel like you’re coming down with something?
The something here is not just anything; it is a strong romantic attraction. 썸남 and 썸녀 would be that someone laden with the potential of becoming someone special in the romance department, someone who is on the verge of becoming the boyfriend or girlfriend. There is another related expression: 썸을 타다, which literally translates into “feeling some[thing]”, the state of your heart at the beginning stage when you’re getting into someone. (I have never written so much “something” in so few paragraphs!)

금사빠(geumsappa): Those who fall in love at first sight
랑에 지는 사람 = Person who falls in love immediately
Since we’re on the subject of love, don’t we all have a friend like that? Those hopeless romantics who tell you, “OMG! He’s the one! I luuuuuuuurrrrrrrvvvvvve him!” and it’s only been a day or two since they met? Or, would it be you, by any chance? I’ve discovered that most 금사빠 get over lost love equally as quickly, but for some reason there isn’t a word to describe it. Yet.

쩐다(jjeonda): Awesome!
Variation 쩔어 in the casual tone. (Formal speech is rarely used.)
Each generation has their expression for “awesome” and “cool”. (For example, for English it would be like boss, wicked, groovy, tight, rad, phat, fly, sick, badass, etc.). There have been various expressions in Korean over the ages, and although the most common slang word used for “awesome” these days is 대박(daebak/big gourd), 쩐다 is used by the younger generation quite a bit. If you’re surrounded by elementary school kids, you’ll hear this often.
No one can truly explain how this word came about, but it is assumed that it’s a derivative of the verb “절다” (쩔다 in colloquial pronunciation), which means “to pickle”. Perhaps seeping something deeply in salt or sugar is something quite awesome. You’ve got to ask the kids.

엄마몬(ummamon) and 아빠몬(appamon): Mom monster and Dad monster
엄마(mom) + 몬스터(monster) and 아빠(dad) + 몬스터(monster)
This one is from the kids, too. And by “kids”, this time I mean the pre-teens and teens who are going through that rebellious, “I hate my parents” stage. Need I explain this further? I think not. Puberty is universal, and so are scary parents.

볼매(bolmae): More and more attractive
수록 력있다 = The better you get to know [person], the more attractive/charming [that person] is
Have you ever met someone who didn’t seem like much when you first met them, but who just gets more and more attractive the more you get to know them? That is what a 볼매 person would be. It is a complimentary adjective to describe someone, much better than having a fabulous first impression but losing favor thereafter.

Is your Friday burning

Is your Friday burning?

불금!(bulgeum): Friday on fire!
타는 요일
Burn down the floor, it’s Friday! You really need an exclamation mark for this one. Up until the early 2000s, Koreans had a 6 day working week. Saturday was meant to be a half working day, but most companies still worked the whole day, so Friday as the start of the weekend was an alien concept. It’s different these days. With a two day weekend, people can go crazy on Friday night, enough to burn the night away. In Korea, this usually means drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. Which leaves you Saturday to recuperate and Sunday to suffer from pre-Monday blues.

발연기(balyeonki): Feet acting, i.e. horrible, horrible, acting
발(foot/feet) + 연기(acting)
This word came about when K-pop idols (and their management company) suddenly decided that it would be a great idea if they branched out into acting. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, the results are pretty disastrous. Whenever a idol starts acting for the first time, the media would pounce and there would almost always be a 발연기 논란, a “foot acting controversy”, because the idol’s acting has the emotive range of a foot. Yes, a foot. Have you ever looked at your foot and felt its emotions flowing? Yeah, see? I just wish that some idols would not crumble under pressure to be a multi-entertainer and just give up acting and stick with what they do best.

광클(gwangkeul): Clicking at the speed of light
광(light) + 클릭(click)
It’s the loyal fans who tolerate foot acting and it’s the loyal fans who have their fingers over their mouse, ready to click like mad when ticketing starts for their idols’ concerts. I swear, if you do not have 광클 skills there is absolutely no way you’re getting tickets, because the server will break down within 2 minutes (or less). Speed of light, I tell you! As a verb, it would be 광클하다.

사생(sasaeng): Stan fans
First two syllables from 사생활 (private life) 팬 (fan)
Those crazy, obsessed fans who stalk their idols up till the point of invading the idols’ private lives. Sasaengs will skip school and work to follow the hectic schedule of their idols, hire cabs to go on a blatant chase, wait in front of their idols’ residence just to catch a glimpse, stake out at the idol’s family’s residence, hack into their idol’s online accounts; nothing is private to them.
Fangirling and fanboying is okay, but at this level, it is not. A dark side of fandom that many Korean celebrities have to tolerate. I haven’t heard of many cases where sasaengs have been reprimanded by law.

Welcome to Si-world and the scary mother-in-law. Photo: tvN

Welcome to Si-world and the scary mother-in-law. Photo: tvN

시월드(si-world): In-law world
시(in-law/ husband’s family) + 월드(world)
It’s their world, and you’re only living in it. In Korea, the in-laws are called differently. The husband’s side would have the prefix 시(si): 시어머니 (mother-in-law) and 시아버지(father-in-law) would be his parents. The word 시집가다 literally meaning “go to in-law’s house” means “get married” for women. In the old days, women married into their husband’s families and lived with the parents. Although that is not as common these days, the husband’s side almost always has higher importance in matters of family and holidays, which has created the word 시월드, as it is a completely different world to which the wife has to get accustomed after marriage. The power of 시월드 is immense, and you really can’t escape it. (If you’ve seen enough Korean dramas, you’ll understand immediately.) There is another expression from the perspective of the husband, 처월드(in-law /wife’s family world), but it hasn’t caught on as much, because obviously, they do not suffer from it as much as the wives do from 시월드.

성괴(seonggwoe): Plastic surgery monster
성형(plastic surgery) + 괴물(monster)
Actually, “plastic surgery” is inaccurate. In Korean, the literal meaning is “form shaping surgery”; there is less of a negative or fake (“plastic”) connotation to the word itself. I’m going to be frank and say that cosmetic surgery is not that big of a deal here. You’re trying to be the best in every aspect possible, and if you think you need the aid of a surgeon, so be it.
However, there are always those who go overboard. It’s always excess that creates a problem. Some people – and it’s not only celebrities – have had so much work done they have reached the sphere of Uncanny Valley. Like most of the “after” photos you see in surgery clinic ads. Sad.

관종(gwanjong): “Pay attention to me!” species, i.e. troll
관심(interest/attention) + 종자(species)
Trolls will be trolls. Especially on the internet. And there are tons out there, in every single country with an online connection. It’s so obvious that they are just love deprived, attention seeking, lost souls. Really, really, really, annoying lost souls. Other similar expressions would be 오크(orc) or 찌질이(loser).

지름신(jireumsin): God of buying
지름(let loose, impulse buy) + 신(god)
Not just buying, but impulse buying. Or power shopping. And it’s not your fault, it’s because the god or spirit of buying has descended upon you and you are acting against your wishes. The god has told you to empty out your pockets and buy, buy, buy, buy, buy! The 지름신 has a wicked knack of showing up during sale season and tends to stay until it’s over. 지름신 강림(advent), 지름신 들렸다 (the god of buying has descendedupon me) are common expressions.

득템(deumtem): Got it!
득(get/obtain) + 아이템 (item)
“It” being an item you wanted. Something you wanted in particular or something you didn’t quite expect. 득템 is usually what happens after the 지름신 takes over you. But this doesn’t only pertain to the “real world”. 득템 is used the most in online/video gaming, when you unlock a certain challenge or level and get a special reward or item. In fact, there are many slang words derived from online gaming – gaming is big in Korea – but too many to list here.

The new 먹방 star, Choo Sarang. Photo: KBS

The new 먹방 star, Choo Sarang. Photo: KBS

먹방(meokbang): Eating broadcast/scene
먹는(eating) + 방송(broadcast)
Koreans are obsessed with food. You can tell how much by all those photos people take before eating. But all of a sudden we started getting obsessed with watching other people eat. No, not gawking at people at restaurants, but on screen. Of course, it was usual in commercials for food products, but have you noticed how often there are scenes of people eating and drinking on Korean TV? TV, film, internet, you name it. It has become such a huge phenomenon that a word was created for it.
The actor Ha Jung-woo (하정우) is credited for being the first 먹방 star for his many eating scenes in the movie “Hwanghae” (황해). Many have said that all they wanted to do after seeing the movie was go eat what he was eating. There have been several 먹방 stars following in his footsteps, mostly kids from variety shows, and also internet 먹방 stars who do nothing but film themselves eating.
Word of advice: avoid 먹방 like the plague if you are on a diet.

I think this will do for the moment; otherwise I’ll wind up writing a thesis. Please let me know if you would like another slang related post.

About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul