Everything is…Korenglish

English is the second language of many Koreans and it has altered their language. It’s called Korenglish. I didn’t invent the term. (Totally wish I had.) But it’s pretty mind boggling experiencing so much Korean and English each day.

Just to prove the first thing we learn is  cursing. Let’s talk about shared words. Some words have been transferred with the same meaning and same sounds like “shit” and “fuck.” Of course, it’s surprising to hear a four year-old appropriately say shit after falling down, but hey it’s English, so that’s cool. Several abbreviations seem to have made their way here as well. For example DVD, ID and PC.

Next there are words that have been transferred a different meaning, but same (or near) sounds like “copee” for “coffee” and “shity” for “city.” This can get a little confusing as there are times when I’m trying to communicate “I need a copy of this paper” and the secretary hands me instant coffee mix because she understood “copy” as “copee.”

Next there are words that Korean will tell you are English, but I’m pretty sure they’re not. Like hof. Several bars say they are a “bar and hof.” I asked once, “Isn’t that German for house?” and was told by a local that “No, hof doesn’t mean house. It’s just a bar.”

And then there are English words and phrases that have been transferred and mean something different. I hear the phrase “so-so” quite a bit. I think the understood meaning is about the same, but people say it way too much.

“How did the test go?”

“It was so-so.”

“Was it hard?”


I’m not quite sure what I’m missing here, but I think so-so means something different to me than to my students.

Then there’s “shut up.” Most Koreans are perfectly comfortable saying “shit” and “fuck.” Given the appropriate circumstances, there’s no hesitation to curse in English. Part of the reason for this, is that there are no curse words in Korean only rude ways to say things. When “shut up” made it’s way to Korea, it was imbibed with some serious connotations. The one sure-fire way I’ve found to offend a Korean is to tell them to “shut up.”

Korenglish proving once again that all you need to know is how to swear.


About kristamaesmith

I'm a writer living with my boyfriend in Salt Lake City, Utah where I cheer for the Jazz, walk my dog, and spend too much money in local restaurants. I work in marketing for higher education and blog about food, travel, television, and whatever shiny moment catches my fancy.
This entry was posted in Everything is..., South Korea, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Everything is…Korenglish

  1. bayley says:

    Shut up was basically a swear word when I grew up, even now when my kids say it, it makes me cringe. Glad to hear you are enjoying yourself!

    • saltcitygirl says:

      Me, too! I was completely shocked to find “shut up” was worse to say than “fuck.” Because of course, I never even heard the f-bomb until I was 12. Thanks for reading!

  2. Rikki King says:

    reminds me of mean girls!

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