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The Joy of Konglish (2): GL

2012/06/30 Source

By Andrew Salmon

In the second of a four-part series, we continue looking at some popular Korean and/or English terms whose meanings differ from what an expatriate or foreigner visitor might reasonably expect. Inverted commas ― "..." ― indicate separate entries. The third installment will be published in two weeks.

Galbi: Food of the gods.

Gangster: Never encountered on Korea's (very safe) streets, but swarming over "K-soaps" "K-dramas" and the "real estate" business. Also inhabits the "chairman's" office of at least one "chaebol".

Generation Gap: Think of the Grand Canyon, and you will have an inkling.

Green Growth: Stated pro-environmental policy that ― Oh! Irony! ― frequently involves tons of concrete.

Grey: Vies with black and white as the top color choice for Korean automobiles. (Carmakers! Why? Is colored paint more expensive?)

Golf: Internationally; dull, low-impact "sport" played by ill-dressed, out-of-shape persons. In Korea; networking for the rich and powerful.

Government Office: Often-monumental structure, easily located as there will be a noisy "demonstration" underway nearby.

Government Official: Polite, well-presented individual who works at a "government office" and whose aim in life is risk avoidance.

Hagwon: Institution to which Korean mothers pay huge sums; in return, their children are mentally tortured until the wee hours.

Hallyu: Korean popular cultural export ― unwholesomely wholesome pop acts, syrup-coated soap operas and cutting-edge movies ― which has been successfully marketed internationally by the private sector. Every government arm and NGO is now desperately leaping aboard the promotional bandwagon.

Hangeul: Korea's brilliantly clever and simple phonetic alphabet. Easily learned, and so useful to read menus and impress chums in foreign countries. ("Yes, I read and write Korean...") Alas, the spoken language is fiendishly difficult.

Hanok: Traditional Korean cottage, virtually eradicated nationwide. Seen by eccentric foreigners as charming; seen by Koreans as pesky, old-fashioned eyesores which exist to provide training for bulldozer drivers.

Heritage: Temple or royal palace, ergo worthy of "Restoration". (Note: "heritage" does not apply to "hanok" or other commoners' sites.)

Hooker Hill: Itaewon hill noted for ― say no more. A surprising number of seemingly respectable expatriates may be spotted here in the early hours… this columnist's visit was solely for research purposes, naturally. (I want a word with you in my office ― Ed.)

Homo Hill: Itaewon gay district, jocularly dubbed "Brokeback Hill". Inebriated revelers may suffer sexual disorientation if they mistake it for parallel "Hooker Hill" or nearby "Tranny Alley".

Human Rights: What "liberals" demand for South Koreans, but deny to North Koreans.

IMF: Shadowy organization of international financial villains that tried to devastate Korea's economy and society in the late 1990s. Their attempt was narrowly foiled.

Incandescent with rage: Troubling condition afflicting some readers of this column.

Japan: Nation which is good at animation, produces OK grub, and whose yen-wielding shoppers are welcomed, but let's face it: The great Satan.

Jeju Island: Formerly: Subtropical island whose hotels' bedsprings were heavily strained due to popularity among identically dressed honeymoon couples. Currently, one of the world's "Seven Wonders of Nature". (That's official!)

Kimchi: The world's most delicious, healthiest condiment, and never forget it! If (horror) you don't like it, do not admit it, on pain of ostracism. An acquired taste, so incoming expatriates should begin immunizing themselves with small doses, pre-arrival.

Kim Jong-un: Porcine but youthful dictator; leader of the "Norks". Probably most famous living Korean, following the exit of his even more iconic father, Jong-il.

Kim, Park or Lee: Tom, Dick or Harry.

Korea: Northeast Asian nation sandwiched between "China" and "Japan" that increasingly punches above its weight. If you are reading this in hard copy, you are probably standing/sitting in it.

Korea Times: The paper to read in Korea, and a far livelier one than its competitors. It's never too late to subscribe. (Good work getting this one in! ― Ed.)

K-Pop: Pretty-boy or pretty-girl band, birthed, incubated and rigorously trained in formation dancing and singing in unison by Seoul-based management companies. Usually contains six-plus members, cunningly formulated so that management can ditch any member who gets rock star syndrome without damaging the overall image.

K-soap K-drama: Inescapable feature of Korean TV. A drama in which beautiful people ― bespoke tailored, possessed of the finest cars, homes and gadgets ― find themselves embroiled in melodramatic, unlikely and apparently sex-free romantic entanglements.

KTX: Hyper-fast, efficient and affordable Korean train. All British Rail staff should be forced to experience this.

Lame duck: One-legged fowl. Also, what every Korean "President" inevitably becomes as their (single) term in office nears an end.

Liberal: Class of political Korean professing leftist sentiments while espousing the jingoism common among far-right European extremists.

Lone Star: In English, a U.S. investment fund seeking high-risk, high-return profits. In Konglish, a U.S. investment fund seeking "excessive profits" staffed by frenzied serial killers whose aim is to asset strip and lay waste to Korea.

Long-term management: Tried-and-tested "chaebol" refutation, rolled out when "minority shareholders" request "dividends".

Andrew Salmon is a Seoul-based reporter and author. His latest work, "Scorched Earth, Black Snow", was published in London in June. Reach him at This is the second installment of a four-part series.

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