Friday, November 9, 2012

Konglish and Cold Weather

Female Student 1: Wowwwww!
Me: What!
Female Student 1: You are wearing short sleeves.
Me: Oh, yeah.
Female Student 2: It's cold!
Me: I'm not that cold. I have lots of body heat.
Female Student 2: Can you give me some?
Me: UH... no, haha.

That funny little lunchtime conversation happened on the last day I wore a polo shirt to school. Since then, it's been noticeably colder, and I've taken out the scarves from where they were hiding in the back of my dresser drawer. The day I first wore my favorite scarf, a long gray knit thing that can wrap around my neck at least four times, to school, the other teachers noticed. (They all drive to school, while I walk, so they don't have to bundle up like I do.)

One of them made a point to ask me if I was wearing a scarf, and then chuckled when I replied in the affirmative. Why? Because of Konglish -- English words borrowed into Korean, often resulting in arbitrary changes in meaning. Some examples include:

fighting (화이팅/hwa-i-ting) for "You can do it!"
cider (사이더/sa-i-duh) for plain soda, like Sprite
meeting (미팅/mi-ting) for "blind date"
service (서비스/suh-bi-seu) to mean "on the house"
hand phone (핸드폰/haen-deu-pone) for cell phone

So there are two Konglish words you must understand. The first is muffler (머플러/muh-peul-luh), which we in the US know as the thing motorcyclists take off their motorcycles so they can annoy the heck out of everyone in the neighborhood. In the UK, however, a muffler is a scarf.

Speaking of which, scarf has also been reappropriated by Konglish (스카프/seu-ka-peu), but it has changed in meaning, from any piece of cloth you wrap around your neck, to specifically small silk scarves, the kind that women tend to wear more often than men.

That said, when I told the other teacher that what I was wearing was a big scarf, he laughed and said no, no, it's a muh-peul-luh. But my English co-teacher knew that there was some Konglish at play there, so she had me explain the differences between the English understanding of words and the altered meanings they sometimes acquired on their way into general usage in Korea.

There's another word for scarf in Korean, one that isn't borrowed: 목도리 (mokdoli), which to me sounds like "neck girder/support". A quick Google Images search indicates that 목도리 and 머플러 are basically the same, although the results page for the Konglish word appears to have more white people on it.

Here is a link to an "Ultimate Konglish List", very extensive but probably incomplete, as language change happens more quickly than you can say "sociolinguistic phenomena". Fun to browse!

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