Sunday, November 17, 2019

What the Heck is Konglish?

The first time I heard the word "Konglish" the first thing that popped into my mind was "Congolese English?" But alas, Konglish (콩글리쉬) is the beloved merger of Korean and English, where loan words are attempted with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original meaning and then spread far and wide.

Here are a few examples:

  • Notebook (노트북): A laptop computer, not a notebook. What we call a "notebook" is kongchek (공책).
  • Dress (드레스): Not just any dress, but only fancy, formal dress. It may also apply to men. See next bullet for what we English-speakers would call a "dress".
  • One piece (원피스): A dress more generally, not a swimsuit. I still have no idea how to say swimsuit, and summer's a long way away so I'm not prioritizing it.
  • Eye shopping (아이쇼핑): Window shopping.
  • Hand phone (핸드폰): A cell phone.
  • Meeting (미팅): Usually a blind date, not a meeting. "Meeting" is hwoe-ui (회의). (It does not sound how the romanization standards make it look.)
  • Open car (오픈카): A convertible. I mean, it's not wrong. (To be completely fair, convertible [컨버터블] is also used.)
  • Manicure (매니큐어): General term for nail polish.
  • Fighting (파이팅 or 화이팅): This is the most famous Konglish word of all, and you'll see it in pretty much any modern Korean drama (K-drama). It does not have anything to do with actual fighting, but it's more an expression of encouragement like "You got this!" or "Go, team!"

Are these false cognates? I don't think they quite fit the definition because they don't have different etymologies. They all ostensibly come from the English language, but their meaning has changed somehow. I will also say that there are plenty of true loan words that have maintained their meaning (looking at you, ice cream [아이스크림]), but I found the different ones way more entertaining. Did I miss any in Korean? Do you know of words like this in other languages? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

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