Konglish: a beginner’s guide

I’ve been meaning to tell you about Konglish for ages now.

In case it’s not obvious, Korean + English = Konglish.

Konglish is occasionally frustrating, often confusing, and almost always entertaining. It’s one of the main reasons for misunderstandings between Koreans and foreigners. And for an English teacher, it’s a daily battle that will probably never be won.

Some English words have been adopted by the Korean language, just as they are, to mean the things that they, erm, mean. Game. Sticker. Computer. These are a few that I hear all the time in school when my kids are talking amongst themselves. However, for the most part, the words have taken on new meanings, so that they now mean something completely different than they do to native speakers – or, even more confusingly, there’s only a very slight, subtle difference, so that you think you’re both talking about the same thing. That’s Konglish. English words, but with a new Korean meaning.

I decided to put together a short list of some of the Konglish words I know, along with their meanings. Hopefully it’ll give you an idea of the confusion that Konglish can (and does!) cause on a daily basis when native English speakers struggle to learn these new meanings and Korean speakers struggle to understand that the words originally meant something else before they came to Korea.

When they say…………….. they mean

Sick……………………………………Hurt or broken

(e.g. “My arm is sick!”…..”I’ve hurt my arm” or “My arm is broken”)

Cider………………………Sweetened soda water (think Sprite or 7Up)

Handle……………………………….Steering wheel

Same-same…………………… “They are the same thing”

(e.g. “L and R in Korean, same-same!”, or “Beer, lager, same-same!”)

Service…………………………..Free (as in “it’s on the house!”)

Handphone……………………..Cellphone/Mobile phone

(pronounced hen-duh-pone)

APT………………………………..Apartment

(pronounced “ah-pah-tuh”)

Apartment………………………….Whole apartment building

Eye shopping………………………Window shopping

One shot!……………………………..Bottoms up!

Hair rinse…………………………….Hair conditioner

Skinship…………………………Making out – kissing, touching

Fighting!………..A shout of encouragement, like “Go team!” or “Let’s do it!”

Time……………………………………….Hour

(e.g. “I slept 8 times last night”…. “I slept for 8 hours last night”)

Let’s Dutch pay!……………………….Let’s go Dutch!

So-so………………………………..Boring, uninteresting

(e.g. “It was very, very so-so”…..”It was very, very boring”)

Yoghurt……………………………..A thin liquid yoghurt drink

Yoplait………………………………..Yoghurt (any brand)

Pop song………………………………..Any song in English

Cunning………………………………..Cheating/copying work

(e.g. “Teacher!! John is cunning!”…”Teacher!! John is cheating/copying!”)

Overeat………………………………..Throw up, vomit

Dessert………………………………..Cup of tea after meal

My favourite ones are “Fighting!” (which my friends and I tend to shout quite a lot if we’re playing a game), “One shot!” (also used often by foreigners here, as you can imagine), and “overeat” (just because it’s so very strange!). Most of the words on my list have caused me various degrees of confusion during my time here, from the mild puzzlement when I couldn’t find conditioner for several weeks and then worked out that the “rinse” next to the shampoo wasn’t actually the purple stuff old ladies use, to bewilderment when I kept getting lemonade when I asked for cider, to sheer confuzzledom when I couldn’t find my friend’s apartment because of course I was looking for an individual apartment numbered 404 instead of a whole building with that number. I was in and out of several apartment blocks looking for a door that said 404 before I worked that one out!

I find new more Konglish words just about every day, and often don’t realise that they’re Konglish until much later. Like “so-so”, for example. People say that all the time, and when they put “very” in front of it I’d always assumed it was just a grammatical error. It was only recently that someone looked puzzled when I corrected them (the children just tend to accept it without questioning), and I discovered that Koreans think the word means something slightly different from our meaning of “neither great nor terrible”.

It means boring, said my friend, so why can’t I say ‘very so-so’ just like ‘very boring’? Boring… so-so… same-same!

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6 thoughts on “Konglish: a beginner’s guide

  1. I love eye shopping!

    The Germans use “Handy” for mobile phone. Pronounced Hendy.
    But the best Denglish expression (Denglish = Deutsch/Englisch) is “body bag” for those giant rucksack things that basically cover your whole back. Somebody obviously didn’t do their research there ;-)

  2. bevchen – See, Handy makes sense to me, in that it’s more convenient than a landline. But handphone just makes me think of a phone that you hold in your hand, which doesn’t exactly distiguish it from an ordinary phone! Oh, and I love body bag!
    K8 – Only the Koreans could come up with a term like that! They’re very… creative.
    Camille – I certainly was…

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