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The joy of Konglish (3): M-S

2012/07/14 Source

By Andrew Salmon

In this third of a four-part series, we continue looking at some popular Korean and/or English terms whose meanings differ from what an expatriate or foreign visitor might reasonably expect. Inverted commas ― "…" ― indicate separate entries. The fourth and final (Thank God! ― Ed) part will be published in two weeks.

Makgeolli (pron: Makoli): Tasty rice brew. Usually mistranslated as "rice wine" though it is made from cereals not fruits, and is glugged, not sipped.

MB: Unpopular, unhappy man with murky future. See also "lame duck;" "President".

Military service: National obligation for poor and middle classes; rich persons' and politicians' sons need not bother with this irksome duty.

Minority shareholder: Tragic, powerless, much-abused creature.

Missy: Until recently, Korean agashis (maidens) transformed into ajummah (matrons) soon after marriage. Now, enter the "Missy:" A daring ajummah who declines to perm her hair, wear a print dress or cackle cheerily.

Monk: Member of Buddhist clergy who falls into one of two categories. The majority: Pious, spiritual gent, usually encountered at temples, who enjoys the waft of incense and is prone to breaking into chant and dispensing pearls of wisdom. The minority: Skinhead who enjoys high-stakes gambling and an occasional ruckus.

Myeong-dong: Strategic bridgehead in Korea seized by Chinese and Japanese shoppers.

National Assembly: Popular location to view martial arts bouts.

NGO: Often set up by a person who, unable to find gainful employment, establishes an organization of questionable utility for reasons of personal aggrandizement.

Noraebang: Place to which Koreans invite foreigners to demonstrate how poor foreigners are at singing, dancing and making merry.

Nobel Prize: Norwegian gong which Koreans salivate over and dream of.

Nork: North Korean. Inhabitant of the odd, sad country that lies 35 miles north of "Seoul" that was established due to superpower rivalry and that continues to exist thanks to "China".

Nuke: Something "Norks" have got but Sorks have not.

Palli palli: Hyper speed. Pace Koreans adopt when working which gives Western executives pause for thought and occasional heart attacks.

Passion: Emotion Koreans prize greatly (sometimes at the expense of rationality).

Politician: A despised class in Korea, as elsewhere.

PR: Ploy by expatriate CEOs to boost their image in Korea by producing images that vernacular media cannot resist. Often involves wearing hanbok and making "kimchi".

President: Oddly sought-after political position that starts well but ends badly with, at best, investigation and indictment; at worst, overthrow, exile, assassination and/or suicide.

Prince: Previously: Member of royal family who would inherit kingdom from Daddy (assuming he survived poisonings and sibling plots). Currently: Member of "chaebol" family who will inherit business from Daddy (assuming he survives poisonous proxy fights and sibling plots).

Progressive: See "liberal".

Rain: Corrosive liquid containing Chinese pollutants that drips from Korean skies. Also: Famous and buff "K-pop" warbler.

Real estate: If you own this, bulldoze whatever sits on it and raise stacked accommodation. Voila, riches!

Real estate developer: Character who, as Korea's demographic trend plunges, will hopefully have fewer opportunities to make huge sums by ruining landscapes.

Recession: Internationally: Situation in which an economy shrinks. In Korea: Situation in which the economy does not grow as fast as economic editors would like.

Republic of Seoul: Large city and its outlying suburbs; home to half of Korea's population. Anyone from anywhere else is unfortunate, exiled, foreign or a bumpkin.

Restoration/Renovation: Not to be confused with what Americans or Europeans do to old buildings, this is how Koreans treat
historic architecture: Bulldoze; rebuild; "improve;" signboard for tourists.

Rice wine: Rice beer. (See "Makgeolli".)

Rightist: Previously: Someone who supported brutal military governments. Currently: Someone who believes a return to brutal military governments would improve the economy. Also what "liberals" dub those who fall to the right of Stalin.

Riot cop: Underemployed, tooled-up youth usually seen loitering, mob-handed, near an "embassy" or "government office".

Salaryman: Be-suited individual who receives a salary in return for working outrageous hours.

Samulnori: Neo-traditional musical format frequently adopted by "demonstrators" when they want to create an almighty din.

Sandwich: Foul-tasting snack.

Sea of fire: How "Seoul" is marked on "Nork" charts.

Sea of Japan: Body of water notably absent from Korean maps.

Seoul: Center of universe; republic from which the rest of Korea is excluded.

Seoul perfume: Formerly: Particularly virulent form of tear gas. Now: Brand of perfume promoted by a "hallyu" star.

Shareholder: Internationally: Person who buys shares and so becomes part-owner of a company. In Korea: Person who buys shares.

Skinny jeans: Uncomfortably tight drainpipe trousers, popular among skinny Korean youth, but undignified ― if not plain ridiculous ― when worn by anyone else.

Six pack: Critical pre-requisite for "K-Pop" boy band members.

SKY: Acronym denoting Seoul, Korea and Yonsei "universities". Magical institutions that guarantee prosperous, well-networked futures to those lucky enough to attend ― and sometimes for those who claim to have.

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

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