November 13, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Michin (Crazy)

Picture of the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll's book Alice in WonderlandCrazy (michin – 미친) seems like the next logical KDrama word, continuing with the popular KDrama subject of mental inadequacy. We hear several variations on the 미친 theme in Korean drama. There are the insults: michinom 미친놈 – male crazy jerk, and michinyun – 미친년 female crazy jerk (or something even less polite than “jerk”).

Then there are assorted conjugations of the verb michida (미치다), to go crazy, such as the present tense informal michyuh/michyaw (미쳐), which means “[pronoun implied by context] is going crazy.” Inflect up at the end of the phrase and it’s instead the question: “Are/is you/we/she/he/they/it going crazy?”

This might be a good time to mention that even though the Korean letter ㅣ looks like the English letter I, and is usually Romanized as “i,” it is in fact pronounced “ee” like the Spanish I. Always. There is no short i sound (like “skip”) in Korean. So all of those “mich” syllables in the previous paragraph are pronounced “meech.” And the chi-something second syllables are pronounced “chee.”

Watch out, I feel another rant about Romanization coming on. English-speakers already have the tendency to mispronounce ㅣ, given the similarity of appearance to our English letter, so wouldn’t it make sense to use Romanization to counteract that tendency by Romanizing ㅣas “ee,” instead of reinforcing the tendency by Romanizing ㅣas I?? Pabos! 미친놈!

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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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November 11, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Choltae (Never)

Large red X in a flamboyant font to signify the spirit of choltaeCholtae or cholttae (절대) is a Kdrama word that we have all heard many times, most frequently from parents forbidding a love match, or from relentless girl/boyfriends refusing to accept a break up. The Korean online dictionary Naver expresses what we have all deduced from the context, that it means “absolutely, completely never!”

As absolute a never as 절대 choltae is, it is often combined with other negatives, such as 아니야 (aniya), which is the present tense informal of the verb 아니다 (anida – to not be). 아니다 has a meaning very similar to 없다. Or to put it all together, “That absolutely, completely NEVER CAN BE!!!!

KDrama fans know that 절대 choltae is like a gargantuan billboard, with megaphones, shouting “The central conflict of this drama is HERE,” but characters never seem to catch on that being so emphatic just begs for a big old swat from fate to show them how absolutely, completely wrong they are. I guess Koreans don’t have an equivalent to the English phrase, “never say never!”

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November 10, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Bap (Rice)

Kimchi fried rice in a frying pan

This is kimchi fried rice from my favorite Korean cooking site, Click photo for recipe page.

밥 Rice is our KDrama Word for today.
ㅂ is one of those Korean letters that is halfway between the sound of two English letters, in this case B and P. This means you will see 밥 Romanized in all kinds of ways: bab, bap, bob, bop and pap. Although Google translator audio pronounces this word as bap (rhymes with rap), everywhere else it sounds like bop (rhymes with top).

You will notice this is another case of transformation, where the very same letter is pronounced two different ways in the same syllable because of its position (more B-like at the beginning, but more P-like at the end). You can find this on the consonant transformations chart I mentioned in 우리 last post.

Not surprisingly, since a traditional Korean diet can include rice at every meal, 밥 turns up in the name of many Korean dishes, such as bibimbap (rice with vegetables, egg, and maybe beef) and kimbap (Korean sushi), to name but a few. 밥 is usually Romanized as “bap” in these food names, so I’m reluctantly sticking with that spelling, even though “bop” is more accurate and less ambiguous.

밥 Rice takes on a symbolic meaning representing food in general in some Korean phrases, much as we would use the word “bread” (daily bread, break bread, bread and roses, etc.). 밥 먹었어요 (literally “did you eat rice?”) is the Korean equivalent of “have you eaten?”

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November 9, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Kada (To Go)

Sign that show a figure walking가다 Kada (to go) is our KDrama Word of the Day today. 가다 is a very common verb. You can hear various forms of it in KDrama all the time. You also hear it constantly in Kpop.

가다 is not only widely used, it is simple and regular, so it’s an excellent verb to start with when you are learning Korean verb conjugations. Which is probably why it’s one of the first verbs taught in every Korean course I’ve ever seen.

Forms of 가다 you may have heard:

가자 Kaja – let’s go (informal)
가요 Kayo – going (present tense, polite)
가! Ka! – Go! (informal)
갈 Kal – verb stem in future tense forms of 가다
갔 Kat (sounds like cot, not cat) – past tense verb stem

Note the transformation on the past tense verb stem. ㅆ has an S sound at the beginning of a syllable, but is pronounced like a T when it comes at the end. Here is a chart of consonants that are pronounced differently depending on whether they are at the beginning or end of the syllable. Most of time, the past tense verb stem will not stand alone, but will be followed by a conjugation beginning with a vowel, which gives ㅆ back its S sound.

You may also notice that the chart gives the sound of ㄱ at the beginning of a syllable as somewhere between G and K. This is why you will sometimes see forms of 가다 Romanized with a G rather than a K, most notably in “gayo” (가요), a term for Korean pop music that includes more diverse styles than “KPop.” I am not certain gayo derives from the verb kada, but it seems a reasonable assumption, since there was an American pop genre known as “go-go” during the formative years of gayo.

Here are all the conjugations of 가자 on (동사), a Korean verb conjugation engine. There are other multilingual verb conjugators (such as Verbix), while is Korean only (dongsa 동사 means verb in Korean). I haven’t tested it, but I would think irregular verb conjugations would be more accurate on a Korean-originated conjugation engine.

Click on any form of kada on the 동사 page to see Romanized pronunciation, and the details of how that particular form was conjugated – very helpful if you are learning conjugations!

One more tip about 가다.
There are two different phrases Koreans say at parting, depending on who is leaving. They sound very similar, because they are very similar – only one syllable is different. The distinction between the two phrases is often explained in a really confusing way, but the trick is to keep in mind that it is not about what you are doing, but what the other person is doing.

Once you know that, all you need to do is remember which phrase you say to someone who is going rather than staying. That’s easy when you know 가다, since the one syllable that is different is 가. If someone is leaving (regardless of what you are doing), always use the form of goodbye with “ka” in it. Easy, right?

If you want to learn more about Korean goodbyes, check out this Talk to Me in Korean lesson. If you are learning Hangeul, I highly recommend looking at the pdf while you listen to the mp3. It’s a real leg up if you associate words with their Hangeul spelling (instead of Romanization) from the first time you hear them.

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November 8, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Cell Phone

Samsung Galaxy S5 smart phoneOur KDrama Word of the Day today is 핸드폰 or cell phone. This is one of my favorite Korean words, and a great example of how English words make their way into Korean.

The A sound in “hand” is one of those English sounds that Korean doesn’t really have, although occasionally ㅏ is pronounced that way. There is also no F sound in Korean, so they use ㅍ, a P-sounding letter, instead. You have heard the same substitution in “Paiting,” which we will get to eventually.

Furthermore, according to the rules of transformation I mentioned yesterday, when ㄷ (a D-ish letter) is at the end of a syllable, followed by ㅍ at the beginning of the next syllable, the D-ish sound transforms to a T-ish sound. So, if you ended the syllable 핸 (hen) with ㄷ, you would get hent-pone, instead of hend-pone, which is getting a little far afield from the English source. Instead, ㄷ gets a syllable of its own to preserve its softer sound, and a syllable must have a vowel. Voila! Hand phone becomes hend-deu-pone.

Despite the modifications, and the clever and cute substitution of “hand” for “cell,” this word is instantly recognizable to English speakers. For some reason, it tickles me no end.

Transformations are one reason many English words acquire extra syllables as they become Koreanized. 뉴스 (news) is another example. You might wonder why it isn’t 늇 instead. 늇 seems to have all of the right letters (n+you+s), but wait – a ㅅ at the end of the syllable becomes a T, so that word is actually closer to “newt” than “news.”

Note also the British English translation of the “ew” sound in “news,” which is more likely to be pronounced “oo” than “ew” in American English. The choice of English source is rather random, sometimes Brits, sometimes us. This explains why the very common Korean name 박 (pak) is Romanized as Park when in fact there is no R-ish letter in it in Korean. In British English, the R in “park” is dropped, so Park is pronounced pak, but here, the translation is puzzling, since we say an R when we see one.

If you would like to learn more about transformations, there is a nice chart here. It is the third chart on the page, under the heading “Running sounds together.” The labels are a little confusing, but the vertical column is the Hangeul letter at the end of the first syllable, and the horizontal row is the letter beginning the syllable that follows.

Getting back to phones, I’m always amused by the way drama characters who are so broke they are sleeping at the 찜질방 have the latest $650 smart phone. Yes, Samsung (삼성) phones are just as expensive in Korea as they are everywhere else. It’s been something of a scandal in Korea lately, in fact.

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November 7, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Opta (Doesn't Exist)

Several empty green bottles

미안 해, 소주가 없어요 ㅠㅠ

Opta 없다 is today’s KDrama word. It is heard frequently in KPop as well as in Korean drama, most often in the form 없어요, pronounced “opsuhyo” or “opsawyo” (present tense, polite).

For the most part, Koreans make a verb negative the same way we do, by putting it in a negative sentence: I run. I don’t run. However, a few Korean verbs have an opposite, so instead of using the same verb for both positive and negative meanings, there are two separate verbs. Opta 없다 is one of these negative verbs.

Literally, 없다 means “doesn’t exist.” This sounds like it would be similar to our verb “to be,” or to the verb “not to be,” if we had such a thing. However, opta is used more like our verb “to have.”

For an example, let’s use yesterday’s word, 돈 (money). 돈이 없어요 “toe-nee opsawyo” translates literally as “there isn’t any money” (or money doesn’t exist). But in Korean, it’s what you would say if your budget was tapped out for the week. Since money troubles are a theme in almost every Korean drama, you will hear that sentence a lot!

If you are really getting into Hangeul and are very observant, you may have noticed that the ㅅ in opta (없다) is pronounced like a T, but in opsawyo (없어요), it’s pronounced like an S.

Unlike English, vowels in Korean are very consistent. There are not 8 possible ways to pronounce each one of them. Consonants are another story, however. Depending on their position in a character block and what letter follows them, characters can completely change their sound. These changes are called “transformations.”

Maybe that’s is why character transformation is so common in Korean drama :)

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November 6, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Ton (Money)

돈 (money) is another frequently heard word in Kdrama. You will not have a hard time finding it once you start listening for it. 돈 is usually Romanized as “ton” but it sounds more like the English word “tone,” except the T is a little softer, almost a D, and there is a little less lingering on the o.
A 5,000 won Korean bill - about $5 USD
This might be a good time to mention that Korean has a different way of structuring sentences from English. It isn’t just that things come in a different order, as is true in some other European languages. Rather, Korean uses extra marking syllables to clarify meaning, instead of word order.

I don’t know enough about this to teach it, but I bring it up because you will often hear extra syllables when listening for a word. Reasonably enough, you may wonder if you are hearing the word you are listening for, or some completely different word. In the case of 돈, you may hear it followed by “ee” (이). Yes, that is money they’re talking about.

Tune in tomorrow, when we will combine Korean’s most frequently used verb with 돈 to make a common sentence.

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November 5, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Mianhey (Sorry)

A red appleToday’s word is another KDrama and KPop staple: mianhey 미안해 (informal), or mianheyo 미안해요 (polite), meaning am/are/is sorry, with the implied pronoun “I”.

As most KDrama fans will have observed to their endless frustration, Korean apology etiquette is to not offer any explanation whatsoever. Any additional comment is seen as an excuse, and therefore a failure to take responsibility. However, in real life (Korean politics, for example), apologizers offer excuses all the time. Come to think of it, it does often come across as an excuse, and a denial of responsibility!

A really serious apology when one has wronged a number of people may be accompanied by a bow. The deeper the bow, the more repentant the apology. We have all seen this in KDrama – usually when a corrupt CEO acknowledges he “made a mistake” in the boardroom.

It’s a real world thing, too. Korean President Park Geun Hye apologized for the Sewol ferry disaster and bowed deeply at the end of an emotional speech in May. Her tears made international news, but I suspect her bow was more significant at home. I came across this speech live, and was weirdly thrilled that I understood the significance of it even without subtitles, thanks to KDrama.

There have been numerous examples of public apology in the entertainment world as well. Celebrities accused of everything from tax evasion to drug use express their regrets and then drop out of sight for a few years, or sign up for their army service if they are men. The length of disappearance is determined by the popularity of the celebrity times the severity of the misbehavior.

Unfortunately, it seems that apologizing is sometimes all that’s required. It’s taken on faith that the apologizer really means it, and after a period of keeping a low profile, they can return to their careers, with minimal legal consequences in many cases.

On the other hand, the truly remorseful may commit suicide. Korean ideas of responsibleness can be rather expansive, another thing we often see in drama, where characters take all sorts of blame onto themselves for things they had no control over. Unfortunately, this is not limited to drama, but occurs in real life, as with a teacher traveling with the Sewol students.

However, suicide is not necessarily an admission of guilt. In drama, at least, it can also mean that someone has been so severely humiliated by being accused of something that is unthinkable to them, that they decline to continue living with such a stain upon their reputation.

Rather oddly, for a culture with a firm belief in the potential for personal transformation, there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

You may be wondering about the apple. The Korean word for “apology” is 사과 sagwa, which is also the Korean word for “apple.” This pun is often played upon in KDrama.

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November 4, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Oori

Graphic design of 4 different colored human figures clasping handsToday’s KDrama word may be a little less familiar to drama fans, but if you listen closely, you will hear it often. 우리 or oori can mean “we” or “us,” but it occurs most often in Korean drama as “our.” Though small, and easy to overlook, this word speaks volumes about the importance of group over individual identity in Korean culture. It’s challenging for Americans to try and imagine thinking of ourselves not as “me,” but as “we.”

In KDrama, listen for 우리 when characters speak of a family member. They won’t say “my mother” but instead refer to “our mother,” even if no other family members are present and they are speaking to a non-relation. You can hear teachers referring to their students as “우리 [student’s name],” too.

The next time you see a KDrama character go looking for a lost family member, or defending one against character assassination, listen for the 우리.

KDrama fans who are also Jane Austen fans may have noticed an interesting quirk of Georgian speech that is almost the opposite of this. The Bennet girls in Pride and Prejudice, for example, even when speaking among themselves of their mother, always referred to her as “my mother” rather than “our mother.”

Oori is often used in the names of Korean businesses (in the U.S. at least). It is sometimes Romanized as woori.

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