Sometimes we have to refer to other languages to find the exact word we are looking for. From secular terms that define cultural identity to contemporary slang used to interpret emotions, these ten Korean words have no direct English equivalent but certainly deserve to be adopted.
1. Noon-chi – 눈치
Meaning: This term is used to describe the art of being in tune with someone else’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions in order to properly assess and respond to a situation. Someone with a good noon-chi can read the body language or the tone of voice of others to understand their true feelings. Comparatively, it is said that someone with bad noon-chi lacks tact or ability to observe.
2. Han – 한
Meaning: A concept that is often considered Korean, han is the collective feeling of sadness and oppression. It is a cultural concept that can be attributed to the long history of attacks and invasions by the nation of other countries. Often difficult to translate, the Los Angeles Times describes Han as “as amorphous as a notion like love or hate: extremely personal, but collectively focused, a national torch, a sign of suffering tempered by a sense of resilience.”
3. Jeong – 정
Meaning: While “Han” describes the particular form of suffering and victimization of Koreans, jeong is the supposedly real and unique form of social relational connection of the country. Sometimes translated as “harmony” or “coexistence”, its definition is much more complex. So much so that Koreans often have trouble defining the word. In simple terms, Jeong refers to the emotional and psychological links that unite Korean collectives. it permeates all levels, dissecting the world in different degrees of woo-ri (us) from them.
4. Dab-jeong-neo – 답장너
Meaning: This newly created Korean word is defined as a situation in which a person asks a question but has already decided the answer to give. For example, a man may end up in a dab-jeong-neo when his girlfriend asks, “Do my butts look big in these jeans?
5. Hyo – 효
Meaning: Associated with Korean cultural notions of filial piety, hyo denotes the strict sense of duty and responsibility that children must pay to their parents at all times, even if it involves great sacrifices on the part of children.
6. Eom-chin-a – 엄친아
Meaning: Korean mothers are known to be competitive and often compare their children to the offspring of their friends. Literally “mom’s friend’s son”, eom-chin-a is used to describe a person who has more success or skill than you – the type of person your mother would negatively compare to encourage you to work harder. “Mina’s son has successfully earned his doctoral degree. Why can you not?! “
7. Dab-dab-hae – 답답해
Meaning: Although dab-dab-hae has many meanings, including “stuffy” or “stuffy”, it is often used in a more figurative way to describe the physical sensation of choking caused by frustration or the inability to speak or to act freely. For example, a person stuck in sseom-ta-da (see below) may have dab-dab-hae. Unsurprisingly, this term is frequently used in K dramas and K-pop songs.
8. Sseom-ta-da – 썸타다
Meaning: Do you know this ambiguous stage of the meeting, where you have seen yourself in a relaxed way but have not yet defined the relationship? Being in this kind of situation is what Koreans call sseom-ta-da. This means that sseom (taken from the English word “someone”) continues and is likely to speak or “continue” until it becomes a more serious relationship.
9. Ttee-dong-kab – 띠동갑
Meaning: The Chinese zodiac is based on a twelve-year cycle. Each year of this cycle is linked to a specific animal sign. Each animal has certain traits, and it is thought that someone who was born that year has the same traits. The term ttee-dong-kab is used to describe two people who share the same animal sign. Thus, for example, a person born in 2000 – the Chinese year of the dragon – would be the dong-kab head with the stars of K-pop Nickhyun and G-Dragon, born in 1988.
10. Nae-soong – 내숭
Meaning: this term refers to a person who is a forgery and is often used to describe a woman who behaves shyly or naively towards others – men in particular – then returns to herself when she is not.