Saturday, December 8, 2012

Korean Words Borrowed into English

The Korean language, heavily influenced by western cultures, has liberally borrowed from foreign languages, namely English, to pad its own language, words related to technology, business, development, and more. It's so obvious that English has become embedded in Korean, but the question is, has there been only language borrowing from English or has there been some language sharing? The English language, which is Germanic in origin, is definitely a language that has borrowed and continues to borrow heavily from others, specifically Latin and French from 1000 - 1300 A.D., so it seems likely that it would have found some useful concept or material culture suitable to be included in the English language and find permanence there.

Korea opened in the late 1870s and by the 1880s there were established missionaries and businessmen in Korea, and their exposure to Korea resulted in kimchi, a strong and highly fermented food typically found offensive by Westerners, and which was written about by an American in 1898, and surprisingly, for its "memorable" odor it was listed as one of the world's top five healthiest foods. Although Korea opened at the end of the 1800s to Westerners, few Westerners actually visited Korea until the Korean War in 1950-1953, and it was at this time that kimchi came to have more popular usage, particularly as the American military personnel living in Korea created the idiom "I'm in deep kimchi" to express trouble or a dangerous situation. It was also through this military contact that a word came into being. "Gook", which is actually a corruption of migook (the US), hangook (Korea), yanggook (England), weigook (foreign country), and other 'gooks' is a shortened and corrupted word, literally meaning 'country', which took on a derogatory meaning of "Korean" to Westerners, and so Korea contributed its second word to the English language, albeit one not of their own creation or one having a very polite meaning.

I was able to identify three other Korean words borrowed into English: two relate to martial arts, taekwondo, which literally translates as "trample-fist-way" and was borrowed in 1967, and hapkido, which I'm not sure of the meaning but suspect "hap" + energy + way. The other word borrowed is, like kimchi, related to the material culture of food -- soju, the distilled liquor that originated in 1300 A.D. in Gaesong, now in North Korea. Soju, a very intoxicating liquor and cheap to produce, has become popular outside of Korea. It is now sold under American liquor license in California and New York, as long as the alcoholic proof is under 25%. Although still not as popular as vodka, Korean liquor is cheaper, has a high proof, and is rapidly gaining in popularity in cultural drinking circles.

Although Korea has principally been the borrower of words from the English language, there has been some material cultural sharing which has influenced the likewise borrowing of five Korean words into the English language. And these words, with the exception of the derogatory gook, have established permanence in the English language. For more clarity on Korean loan words, read Korean Words in English.

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