I get the sense that words in Korea come and go like fashion statements.  Obviously, since I don’t live in Korea and I don’t hear Korean around me all the time, it’s hard to pick up on current slang; when I do encounter one inadvertently in a variety show or drama, it usually requires a bit of sleuthing before I can piece together its meaning.

Let me tell you about this word though.  멘붕.

So graduate school and life has kept me really busy, but I do try to squeeze in a little bit of Korean exposure everyday.  Granted, I don’t read or listen to nearly as much Korean as  I used to a year ago, and yet – and yet – I managed to encounter this word about five times in the course of three days and twice in the same drama.

멘붕 is a 신조어 (newly-coined word) or, as my friend Yekyung likes to call it, a 외계어 (a meaningless, made-up word) which stands for 멘탈 붕괴.  Let’s break it down.

  1. 멘탈:  mental
  2. 붕괴:  무너짐 (collapse, breakdown)

Together, we have 멘붕 = mental breakdown.

You might also recognize it as being yet another example of 준말, or an abbreviated word, which I talked about in some detail over at selfstudykorean.

I think I first heard this word sometime around late 2011 but the fact that I heard it so many times in such a short duration made me sit up.  Words like these are merciless to the unwary language learner!  It doesn’t help that Korean youth seem to be using more and more such words in their daily language, to the extent that even some native speakers struggle to understand their meaning.

My advice if Korean slang has you stumped:  Google the word followed by “무슨 뜻.”  Chances are, if it’s a newly coined word, there are Koreans out there who are probably wondering what it means too.  I can certainly admit to not knowing all the English internet slang out there.  Good thing I have my resources.

Nine Korean words I wish existed in English

I’m in constant danger of using these words in the middle of an English conversation.

1. 역시: The best English equivalents I can come up with for this word are “naturally,” “obviously,” “as expected,” and “of course” but I still find that situations where that sounds odd in English.  역시 is such a pithy answer to a variety of different scenarios; I do wish there was a single, direct English equivalent.  For example, suppose your friend says something like, “콘서트 최고였어!  지드래곤은 진짜 멋있더라!”  To which you could very simply reply, “역시” to mean “naturally” or “of course.”  But say 지드래곤 was at an interview and said, “이번 생일부터 저의 선물로 돈을 기부하겠습니다.”   If you were the interviewer, you could say, “와~~ 역시 지드래곤 씨네요!” which uses 역시 to mean more like, “that’s what I would’ve expected from you.”

2. 글쎄: Such a delightfully noncommittal word.  It can mean “I guess,” “I dunno,” “maybe,” “not sure” or simply “hmmm.”  Just leave it to the listener to figure out what you really mean.

3. 헐:  Oh yes, the word that perfectly sums up my entire existence!  I equate this sound with “OMG WHAT” or “HUH??” or “that’s crazy” – though my Korean friend tells me it can also be used when you mean 대~~~박.

4. 길치:  길 means “way, street” and 치 is “person” – 길치 is a person with no sense of direction.  If only there was a word this succinct in English that describes my condition.  On a similar note, 음치, which is 음악 + 치, means a “tone-deaf person.”

5. skinship:  Technically not Korean, doesn’t keep it from being awesome.  I use PDA as a poor substitute, but skinship is so much better.

6. 맞선:  The only reason I wish this word existed in English is so I’d be able to better explain the process of Indian arranged marriages to my American friends.  In Marathi, there’s a phrase we use that translates to “going to see the boy/girl” which basically means the same thing as  맞선.  In fact, the phrase “선 보다” translates beautifully into Marathi but sounds really clunky in English – essentially translating to “meeting each other with the intention of getting married.”  I usually explain this to my friends as “a very serious blind date arranged by one’s parents” which doesn’t have quite the same meaning or ring to it.

7. 멍:  Gosh, I love this word!  It’s basically the speechless, zoned-out, eye-glazed-over, “ehhhh” type of expression that you’d find on the face of every student forced to sit through a difficult lecture. It’s ridiculously fun to say too.

8. 짝사랑:  You could use “crush” but the point is that it’s unrequited and not all crushes are.  “Unrequited love” is a mouthful to say and it doesn’t look quite as romantic when you’re trying to translate song lyrics.  What’s even harder to translated is when it’s used as a verb.  How does one properly translate 짝사랑 하다?  “To have an unrequited love?” “To love someone one-sidedly?” Neither one really rolls off the tongue.

9. 뒷모습:  This word makes me groan when I’m translating songs.  뒤 is “back, rear” and 모습 is “figure, image” and together, this word means “appearance from behind.”  Sure, you could translate this as “back” or “behind” but it often sounds flat in the context of a song.  If I’m feeling poetic, I usually translate 네 뒷모습 as “your retreating figure” but even that sound a bit… blargh.

Of course, these are excluding all those lovely ideophonic words and kinship terms which present such troubles for poor amateur translators like me!  What are some Korean words you wished existed in English?

Big (first impressions)

I prefer not to write too much about dramas here, unless it’s in the context of something culturally unique and/or language-related, but seeing as my wordpress is going through a bit of a dry spell… I’ve done a couple of these “First Impression” posts on tumblr (which you should steer clear from unless you want to experience every disgusting detail of my fangirl maladies) but I thought I’d stick one here just to fill up space.  Heh.  Anyway, I watched the first episode of Big this morning (sans subtitles, go me!) and, yeah, here are my first impressions.

Continue reading “Big (first impressions)”