I love picking up new Korean slang. Once you have a new word or phrase down, it’s like a whole new vista of meaning opens up. All of a sudden, drama dialogue, radio shows, tweets, and forums start making more sense and you start hearing the word everywhere.
That’s how I felt when I learned 썸타다.
I first came across the word 썸 as the title of a popular song that was topping the charts about a year ago. I thought it was a bit odd, but hey, a lot of songs have nonsensical titles, so I didn’t give it a second thought. Funnily enough, the lyrics of the song describe EXACTLY what the title means, but I only discovered that recently.
Anyway, I’d been hearing the phrase ‘썸 타다’ over and over again in the drama 호구의 사랑 (Hogu’s Love). It wasn’t until that scene where Hokyung presents “research” on the concept that it first occurred to me that this is some (pun intended!) type of slang. Heh. She says:
“‘썸’은 썸띵(something)에서 파생된 단어다. 시간이 돈인 현대 사회에서는 짧은 시간 안에 최적의 파트너를 골라내야 한다”며 연애하기 전에 이 사람이 나의 귀중한 시간과 돈을 써서 만날 가치가 있나 탐색하는 썸 타는 시기가 반드시 필요하다. 결론적으로 썸은 진화된 인류에 새로운 소셜 스킬이다.”
“‘Some’ is derived from the word ‘something.’ In this culture where time is money, and you have limited time to find a suitable partner, you want to be able to know if a person is worth your precious time and money before starting a relationship. That’s why you need a period of investigation, when the two of you are ‘something.’ In conclusion, ‘some’ is a new social skill that humanity has evolved.”
So what exactly is 썸? It defines a relationship status in which you’re scoping out someone as a potential long-term partner. In American dating culture, this would be the phase when you’re casually seeing someone, but not committed to exclusivity. I’m not sure if that concept exists in Korea (i.e. if you’re dating, are you automatically assumed to be a couple/exclusive?), so maybe that’s why this new term had to be invented.
Now while browsing Naver 지식in, I came across some users who suggested a slightly different, albeit not mutually exclusive, definition – and one that better fit the concept of the aforementioned song. 썸 seems to describe a relationship in which both parties are more than friends but not quite lovers. They’re in a ‘flirtationship’ of sorts, but they’re not officially together. They might do special, couple-y things together but insist to others that they’re ‘just friends.’ But you’re not just friends. And you’re not exactly lovers. You’re some(썸)thing to each other.
Oh boy. When I read that – well, I’ve been in 썸-type of relationships myself… For a time it’s all fun and giddy, but ultimately it’s not sustainable. After a period of time, you’ll always get to a crossroads. Do I actually want to be in a relationship with this person? Or are we good as just friends? Sometimes it sucks to give a definitive answer to that question, but doing so is better off for everyone’s mental health!