November 12, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Pabo (Fool)

A jester wearing a pabo's capPabo 바보 is our KDrama word today. This is another very frequently used word, probably because the range of meaning is so wide, from affectionate “silly goose” to belittling “stupid idiot.” It all depends on whether you are being called 바보 by your best friend as she rumples your hair, or by a pack of school bullies as they hang you head down from a 3rd story window above a concrete courtyard.

There are a ridiculous number of arguments about the correct Romanization of pabo in drama forums. Seriously, people, there is no “correct” way to spell a Korean word in English! Korean sounds are not the same as English sounds! You can only spell a Korean word accurately in Hangeul.

Well, OK, technically, each system of Romanization* has its own “correct” way, and for all I know, they agree (although that is extremely unlikely). However, I didn’t bother checking (why?).

The important question in my mind is how to pronounce 바보. ㅂ transforms to a more P-like sound at the beginning of the syllable 바 in 바보, as with . But wait, ㅂ is also at the beginning of the second syllable, 보. So how come it’s more B-like the second time? None of the transformation charts explain this. I will let you know if I ever find out.

In the meantime, we see 바보 Romanized as pabo and babo, but even where it is Romanized as babo, as in this entertaining Korean Word of the Week video, it still sounds more like pabo to me. At least we know it isn’t ever pronounced bapo. Let us be content with that.

The KWOW video reiterates 2 points I have also seen mentioned elsewhere:

  1. Pabo is not necessarily offensive, it’s all how you use it
  2. EXCEPT when speaking to people older than you. You should never, ever call an elder 바보 – 절대!

* There are at least 6 Romanization systems, including one that’s officially endorsed by the (South) Korean government, but not so much by native English-speakers. North Korean is a whole nother ball of wax.

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