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.
- 멘탈: mental
- 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.