glossary

While watching kdramas, you’ll probably notice a lot of terms cropping up repeatedly, sometimes without enough time for a full explanation. Here’s a glossary of some of the more commonly used terms. I’ll also be adding to this list as I think them up.

GLOSSARY OF COMMONLY USED TERMS

ajumma :: A middle-aged woman. Can be used for a close friend of the family, or a stranger. Can be made more formal as “ajumoni.”

ajusshi :: A middle-aged man, the counterpart to ajumma.

arubite :: A part-time job, derived from the German word Arbeit, meaning employment. Corresponds to the Japanese cognate arubaito. These days the word is often shortened to al-ba.

banjun drama :: A drama with a shocking twist halfway through.

banmal and joen-dae mal :: Language and politeness is very important in the Korean language, as it is in Japanese. There are strict hierarchies of what form of speech to use, depending on one’s relationship to the conversation partner. Banmal is informal speech — not necessarily rude, but familiar. Used only with those close to you, or younger (i.e. to a teenager or younger) — but when used between one adult to another, even if it’s older to younger, banmal may be seen as rude if sufficient familiarity has not been achieved. Joen-dae mal, then, is the polite form of speech.

chaebol :: A family-owned corporation head, like Samsung or Hyundai. Similar to zaibatsu in Japan. Because of the family-owned nature of the business, there’s no direct equivalent in English. The chaebol (sometypes translated “tycoon”) is the founder of the company, so therefore many kdrama male leads are second-generation chaebols (or third-generation, such as in Hello! Miss). The second-generation chaebol is a common kdrama character because he presents an easy Prince Charming figure — young enough to enjoy the spoils of wealth, but old enough to earn some respect working in the company. Other examples: Both Lee Dong Wook and Lee Junki’s characters in My Girl, Jo Hyun Jae in Only You, Lee Ji Hoon and Ha Seok Jin in Hello! Miss. They can be female, such as Hye Rin in Que Sera Sera.

chae-hada :: A verb, often weirdly translated, meaning “to have indigestion” or heartburn. Often mis-translated as “choke,” although sometimes choke sounds better than the less-poetic indigestion. A common Korean home remedy is to massage the arms to rush the blood toward the hands, tie a finger with string, and prick the fingertip with a needle. The idea is that indigestion is caused by a blockage of “bad blood” or some other negative energy in the bloodstream, and by forcing it to the extremities and releasing it, you are ridding your body of the blockage. I know it sounds like voodoo witch medicine, but I SWEAR THIS WORKS. I am a huge skeptic when it comes to these things, but the blood that comes out is actually blackish, and the relief is instantaneous. Much faster than Pepto.

di-ka :: Digital camera. Comes from shortening the two, since Koreans love to cut words off and mash them together. We’re lazy like that?

dongsaeng :: Meaning “younger sibling,” can refer to a true blood sibling, or a close friend whom you treat as a younger sibling. While dongsaeng applies to both genders, its opposites are gender-specific (see hyung, oppa, and unni).

fusion drama :: A drama that takes elements of separate genres, i.e., fusion sageuk, which would be a historical drama mixed with traits usually not seen in conventional historicals. For instance, Conspiracy in the Court is a fusion sageuk thriller; Hong Gil Dong is a fusion sageuk comedy.

hoobae :: A junior classmate or colleague. A less intimate and/or more professional term than dongsaeng. But, because hoobae is a term used for a younger person, you don’t address them as “hoobae” — you would just use their name. (For instance: She is my hoobae, but I call her Su Jin.)

hyung :: “Older brother,” used between males only. Can be used between blood brothers, or close friends.

hyungnim :: Formal version of hyung, used between men with a slightly formal relationship (i.e., brothers-in-law). Also common parlance for gangsters to use with their bosses and superiors.

Kongji & Patji or Patzzi:: Korean Cinderella story. Kongji’s the nice one, Patji’s the mean one.

makjang :: a sylistic, tonal, or narrative element in dramas that chooses to play up outrageous storylines to keep viewers hooked despite how ridiculous the stories become (adultery, revenge, rape, birth secrets, fatal illnesses, and flirting with incest possibilities are some makjang favorites). Shows can be part of a makjang class of dramas (Wife’s Temptation is a makjang series), or they can have makjang tendencies (Mary Stayed Out All Night went makjang toward the end). Generally considered a negative thing (“Gah, how makjang can you get?”), unless a drama intentionally embraces the style (such as Baker King Kim Tak-gu or Flames of Desire).

mat-seon :: A formal blind date set up with the intention of possibly marrying the participants. Often set up between the parents. Seen in practically every kdrama ever.

melo :: Melodrama, tearjerker.

noona :: “Older sister” used by a male to a female. Again, can be used between blood siblings or merely people who are close friends.

officetel :: A studio apartment. I have no idea why they came up with officetel. Basically an apartment for a single inhabitant, with kitchen and perhaps its own office. And maybe telephone. Or television. Or teleportation device. Edit: apparently a conflation of “office” and “hotel”

oppa :: “Older brother,” used by a girl to an older male. When used between people who are not related, can carry a romantic connotation — many girls call their boyfriends oppa, a process I used to find vaguely creepy as I have many blood oppas (brothers and cousins), but have since become used to. Many times a girl who starts calling a guy oppa may like him or be saying that as an expression of her interest. Not always, of course. But a girl who does NOT like an older unrelated male would likely call him something else, such as sunbae or his full name.

pojangmacha :: Streetside food tents, where you’ll have the obligatory scene of the heartbroken lead drowning their sorrows in ddukkbokki (spicy rice cakes) and soju. They are literally everywhere, and the tents pop up in the eveningtime.

sageuk drama :: Historical drama

sel-ca :: Self-photographed pictures. Often with one’s di-ka in the hopes of becoming an uljjang.

Shim Chung :: Heroine of an ancient folktale known for her virtue and filial piety. Jumped into the sea to save her blind father, rescued for her beauty (naturally) by sea god, eventually returned to land. After she marries him. I think. Calling someone Shim Chung can suggest they are good and sweet, or that they are a goody-two-shoes.

sogaeting :: A blind date. A mishmash of the word “sogae” (introduce) and “meeting.” Much more casual than the marriage-minded mat-seon.

soju :: Korean liquor known for being strong and cheap. Comes in green bottles. Tastes like vodka. Usually around 40 proof (20% alcohol). Also seen in practically every kdrama ever.

sunbae :: Means “senior” and is often used with the suffix “nim” which makes it polite: “sunbae-nim.” In Witch Amusement, Yoo Hee (Han Ga In) calls Joon Ha (Kim Jung Hoon) “sunbae” without the “nim,” which makes it more casual.

uljjang or ulzzang :: A hottie. Specifically one with a beautiful face, as the word is a mishmash of the words “uhl-goohl” (face) and “jjang,” which is slang for “best.” With the weird cult of Internet fame, an uljjang can also refer to a celebrity whose fame arose from posting self-taken photos on their cyworlds. Some famous uljjangs include Park Han Byul, Gu Hye Sun, Kim Ok Bin.

unni :: “Older sister,” used between females only. (In recent years, some men have taken to calling women “unni,” which is a slang appropriation of the term.)

yobo or yeobo :: The word used between spouses, similar to “honey” except that “yobo” is only used between spouses.

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140 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. ginnie

    Oh I love this glossary Sarah!!! =) Thank you!!!

    One of the toughest thing for me when it comes to learning Korean/Japanese is the politeness level in its speech. Banmal and joen-dae mal seems so hard to understand and remember…

  2. ZB24

    Thank you very much for this list.

    ZB24

  3. rezaecha

    Thank you very much..java beans…today i know little of korean language…

    Kamsahamnida…..

  4. Jess

    Thanks for this!

    LOL, I also found the “oppa” term to be strange at first but got used to it :)

  5. Amyable

    How about officetel (sp?)? I get what it is by having watched enough kdramas but I wonder how they arrived at calling these domiciles that?

  6. javabeans

    Amyable, that’s a good one, i’ll add. And i have no idea why they call them that, unless it’s some mistakenly garbled mash-up of “office” and “hotel”? Like, an apartment for an office-goer?

  7. kiwee

    what about autobite (or part-time job)? i was watching nonstop 4 with subs the other day and it seems they dont actually translate it.

  8. javabeans

    kiwee, added!

  9. selena

    What is “handboks”? Is it called traditional Korean pouch or handbag?

  10. 10 javabeans

    hanboks are traditional korean style clothing.

  11. 11 Jessica

    Hi Sarah,

    Is there a formal way of saying father and mother? I hear “appa” and “omma” but also another version of it.

    Thanks!

    (Also, I watch some jdramas as well and I notice that the word for “bag” in Japanese is also “ka-bang” Heehee :) )

  12. 12 javabeans

    Father = “ah-beo-ji” or “appa,” which is more like Dad; “ah-beo-nim” is even more formal
    Mother = “eo-meo-ni” or “umma,” which is like Mom; “eo-meo-nim” is formal

    And there are lots of similarities between Korean and Japanese words (the Japanese for bag is kaban), like yaksok = yakusoku (promise); kudu = kutsu (shoes); cha = cha (tea); undong = undou (exercise); shinho = shingo (signal); sunbae = senpai (senior); gunbae = ganbai (cheers)….

  13. 13 Jessica

    Thanks for the clarification! I find it really interesting how Korean has formal and banmal speech! And also how men and women will use different words when describing things.

    I’ve also noticed that a few Korean words are pronounced exactly the same as they are in Taiwanese (a dialect of Chinese).

    It’s funny because they’ll say some similar phrase and my ears will perk up thinking, “hey, I know that word!” :)

    • 13.1 fandomnerd12

      Chinese, Korean, and Japanese sound alike due to Chinese having influenced both languages. Like as javabeans posted the similarities between Japanese and Korean words/phrases. Japanese actually still use Chinese characters in their writing, called kanji. They read kanji two ways: on-yomi and kun-yomi. On-yomi is reading it similar to Chinese pronunciation, and kun-yomi is the native Japanese reading that is associated with the kanji. Like san is “mountain” in on-yomi , but in kun-yomi it’s yama. It’s really easy to learn either of the three languages if you’ve had experience with one. Also, the basic sentence structure for Korean and Japanese are the same or similar I believe. I forgot since I haven’t spoken Chinese since I was young, but I think basic Chinese sentence structure is like English.

  14. 14 all4movies

    Hi Javabeans,
    Can you comment on the meaning of ssakaji (jerk?) and the different types of bang (rooms?). Much appreaciated.

  15. 15 javabeans

    Interesting note about ssagaji. The word literally means ‘manners,’ so the full insult, commonly used, is that someone doesn’t have ssagaji (싸가지 없다, ssagaji ob-da!). If ever used to say someone has ssagaji, it’s usually used as a grudging admission that someone is actually polite. However (and this is where it gets confusing), sometimes people just cut short the exclamation and say, “Look at that ssagaji!” or “Geez! Ssagaji” which suggests, Boy, what a rude jerk!

    I’m not sure what you mean about bang? It just means room. And can be used in various settings like in English — bathroom, bedroom, storeroom…

    • 15.1 maryann

      When rain asked Song hye kyo in one scene in Full house where he said. . . “be bang” . . does this mean . . in my room?

  16. 16 cherry

    Thanks for the glossary! I find this really useful, as I am becoming more of a Korean drama addict! I plan to learn Korean soon =)

  17. 17 Jessica

    Hi!

    Quick question, but how do you type Korean?

    Like, mainland China uses pinyin, so they use the English “ABCD” to type a word.

    Whereas Taiwan uses zhuyin, the keyboard actually has Chinese characters. Essentially phonetic characters that are used to pronounce Chinese words.

    So I was wondering if Koreans type with an “ABCD”-ish keyboard, or do you use Korean characters?

    Thanks!

  18. 18 hi

    The meaning behind OfficeTel – is because of office + hotel = officetel. Another Konglish word (which you probably already know). Before they became to known as studio apartments, from my understanding, when buildings had extra office space (because they weren’t being rented out by enough companies/ firms), they converted the office spaces into rentable living spaces kind of like hotels. So tada… officetel.

  19. 19 Eunwhui

    very niceeee :D
    you rock javaaaa!

  20. 20 Valery

    Thanks for developing this site. I have been hooked on watching Kdrama since last year, and I have always wanted to know few words that you have posted above. This glossary section really helped for people like me (non-Korean). Thanks a bunch! ^^

  21. 21 Jia

    This is a great glossary, thanks for compiling it! I have a question: While watching numerous kdramas, I’ve come across 3 ways to say thank you – ‘komapsumnida’, ‘kamsahamnida’ and ‘komawoyo’ – and I’ve always been confused as to how you use them in various situations. I’m guessing one is more formal than other, but can’t really tell which. Would anyone care to explain? Thanks! :)

  22. 22 Anonymous

    hey javabeans, thanks for this terrific glossary.
    i’m just wondering: does “opa” always hold a romantic connotation? i’m a second generation korean who’s still learning the culture/language ropes, so i wasn’t aware of that… i’m horrified at the idea that i’ve been expressing romantic interest in my cousin by calling him “opa” .

  23. 23 Gramps

    #22 Anonymous – javabeans has already explained this in her entry for the term. Or maybe you missed that entry because you were looking for “opa” – a German grandad – instead of “oppa” with the correct “tense” sound?

  24. 24 Rory

    how about “seng show?” i’ve heard people use it frequently in dramas and real life but never quite understood what it meant.

  25. 25 javabeans

    Rory, that’s used (usually sarcastically) when someone’s acting weird and/or overdramatic — like they’re putting on a performance instead of reacting normally.

  26. 26 kyotoji

    OOPs… i just discovered this page.. so excited…
    A good one, i must say. I can learn my korean vocab here… yippeee…
    by the way, regarding the one that Rory mentioned (post 24), javabeans, mind to share with me or rather us how to write that in korean. I am not good in korean romanising, but i can read korean words.

    Jessica (post 17), i am not sure whether there’s any difference between keyboards using by each country. i remembered Japan and Korea has it own set of keyboards with their characters printed in it. (hope i didnt remembered this wrongly, cos i frequent their PC cafe before, me having problem using their keyboards… kekekeke, so embarrassing LOL)
    But for me, using the normal ABCD-english keyboard, (of cos, u need to switch to Korean IME), each alphabet represent one hangul character. For example, for letter G, it will show “ㅎ”, for letter K, it will show “ㅏ” and letter S, it will show “ㄴ”, if key all together, it will become 한.
    Hope my explanation is clear. kekekeke… sorry if i made any mistake here and there.

  27. 27 Cartman

    hi javabeans! I was just wondering..does soju taste more like of vodka or gin? :) thanks

    • 27.1 cybergal

      I bought some soju just to try it out. It’s a strong clear rice wine. To me it had a bitter taste. I always wondered why they did the guttural sound after doing a one shot and tried that too. It seemed to help me get past the bitter taste. LOL I would probably compare it more to gin because of the bitterness, but that’s just me. Also, this is basing it on just one brand of soju, I don’t know if other brands differ. Next I’m going to try the milky rice drink that you see in the dramas.

  28. 28 all4movies

    I’ve been wondering about the meaning of “goon” when it’s added to the end of someone’s name (usually a male). Is this a form of endearment or a fond way of calling someone an idiot? For example, “Shin Goon” in Goong and I also think it’s used in Miss Kim. Thanks.

  29. 29 GY_addict

    thanks javabeans for this glossary! i’ve gotten obsessed of korean dramas i wanted to know the language so i tried (desperately!) to know even the basic ones… right now i already have a rather short list of basic words, now i have to add your list on mine hehe! thanks! komao (is this correct?)! “salamat” in Filipino…

    just love your site! – sigh! -

    i was just wondering… what series are you currently doing recaps now?

    • 29.1 Ara

      gomawo or komawo you mean?

      I’m a filipino too :)

  30. 30 javabeans

    “goon” is like “Mister,” similar to attaching the “-sshi” suffix to a name.

    soju tastes like vodka more than gin, in that it doesn’t have much taste (and therefore makes a great mixer).

    • 30.1 Yoorie

      whats the drinking age in Korea? I like vodka…so im positive ill love soju. Have you ever tasted sake?

  31. 31 kiTy

    hi Javabeans~
    how about adding orabeoni? after watching Capital Scandal i have a high interest on this term.. i know it’s kinda an old fashioned version of oppa… but how is its actual position in current days? when i ask my Korean friend, “what do you think if i address him as orabeoni” (him refers to KJH, and it was on KJH’s daum cafe) she answered me, “that’s cute, i think it sounds sweeter than oppa” …..
    and i also heard that NamSangMi used to call her co-stars with orabeoni……

    oh, some more questions..
    there’re hyeongnim and nunim for the formal version of hyeong and nuna ryt… i wonder if there’re also eonninim (probably eonnim?^^; ) and oppanim? ahaha…..^^;;
    i think i’ve heard eonnim when watching Gag Concert (the Gag men play a role of female version of gangster^^), but i could be wrong…

    thank u in advanced! ^^

  32. 32 katwoman

    What about joahae and saranghae? Often when I’m watching the dun, dun, DUN moment is joahae, which I’m guessing is “I like you…alot”, whereas saranghae is “I love you”. But most of the subbing will use “I love you” for joahae confessions which I ALWAYS have to point out to my hubby…like he cares.

    Care to clarify?

  33. 33 shro

    what does aeyggo mean? they kept saying it in we are married.

    • 33.1 maryann

      I think it’s just an expression . . as in . . “oh my”

    • 33.2 maryann

      Aigoo I think it’s just an expression . . as in . . “oh my”

    • 33.3 skwonto

      hi,

      I know fours years later… I just found this site and I love it.

      I believe aeyggo means (roughly), charming, likable, charismatic, etc… I asked my parents.

    • 33.4 George of the Jungle

      The literal translateion is ‘cute flesh’ but cute also works ^^

  34. 34 Joneh5

    LOve it! THANKSSSSSSSSS!:)

  35. 35 yok(Thailand)

    how do u say Thank You..in Korean?..I heard it many times but still can’t remember…i think it’s really long….I’ve watched a lot of kdrama..which makes me wanna learn some korean..and go to korea someday…

  36. 36 yvree

    you do have a very informative page. thank you.

    thank you = kamsahamnida. :D

  37. 37 goalie

    thank you for this! (^_^)

  38. 38 twing

    love this page.

  39. 39 shp

    In the drama “Thank You”, the female doctor who is dying of cancer calls her boyfriend, also a doctor, “hyung”. This is the first time I’ve ever heard a woman call a man “hyung” in real life or in a drama. Can you comment on this? Is it a fairly new phenomenon?

  40. 40 Anonymous

    hi happy birthday”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  41. 41 LoveX

    Thanks a lot for this page….^_^
    Hope You’ll add more, so I could learn more

  42. 42 Moo! I'm at UCF!

    shp: maybe his name is hyeong. ㅋㅋㅋㅋ

    Otherwise, perhaps she’s delusional? I don’t know.

  43. 43 shp

    @Moo! I’m at UCF

    I was speaking to some friends and they told me this occurs sometimes in situations when using the term “oppa” would be too “girlfriend-like”, yet when “sunbae” would be a bit too formal.

    Has anybody else come across this situation where a woman calls a man “hyung”?

  44. 44 jenny lee

    Thanks a lot for all these . actually , i do learn many korean words from the dramas but are sometimes kinda confused with their meaning .
    same problem with the term ” oppa ” . they say it is a term used by a female when calling an older male . but my korean friend told me that they don’t usually call a guy “oppa ” unless they know each other very well . so , how am i suppose to call my male friend who is like 8 years older than me ? by calling his name directly seems a bit impolite , but by adding the suffix ” shi ” seems too formal …….

  45. 45 touch!

    ahhm…
    Javabeans…
    i just want to know what is the most used korean term for “thank you”???and also the “yes” and “no”???…
    i’m really curious about it…

    and thanks for the glossary…love it…ü

    TOUCH!

  46. 46 xiyun37

    Hi Javabeans & fellow bloggers,
    I like your website very much, it provides an outlet to unleash our thoughts & emotions after becoming kdrama addicts ;) otherwise we will be bursting (I know I would).
    I started watching kdrama just recently and have been hooked, seriously hooked. Now I want to know everything about the actors, the language & the country!

    I love to sing & I love the soundtracks but I wish I knew the meaning of the lyrics.
    I hope this is not too much to ask but if anyone is kind enough, please let me know the meaning of this song Da Ga Ga Go Ship Uh from the Man in the Vineyard, just a rough translation will mean a lot to me :) I am Ga Ga over the song. The romanised lyrics are as follows: Kamsahamnida

    * Mae-hil bonun aikun, donkatun pyojong
    Chorum gi nal chorom, ku dae-ro inde

    Pyolil do[a], niniyuro datudakado
    Tudol-dae-nun, ni mosume u-sumi nawa

    Shwinke torajiko, hwarul-nae-nun na
    Orinayichorum, jemat dae-ronde
    Nowa hamkke, han shikani mannajilsurok
    Waen-ji ma-u-mi tadu thae, Ki dae-go-shipo

    **Chogum aju chogum, nowi kyoturo Dakakago shipo
    Orae aju orae, Kakka-un kose isso jwo * (last ***)

    Nowa hamkke han shikami Manhajitsurok
    waen-ji-ma-u, Mi ddaddu-thae, kidaego shipo **

    Chichil ddae mada, ulgo shipul ddae mada
    Ni olguri monjo ddo-olla
    Nado noyeke himi dwijugo shipo
    Ajik soturugo-olyodo……

    Mami nae ma-u-mii, parago isso Yonggirul nae-ya hae
    Narul-I nukkimul, Jonhago shipo noyeke **

    ***Chigum gudae-ro issojwo

  47. 47 harold

    hi java beans…
    what a nice site..now i know what sunbae means ahaha…
    what is nonmulboda?

  48. 48 mai

    hi!! just want to know the korean term of husdand and wife??

    tnx

  49. 49 Icarusfalls

    @ 47: Sunbae is usually a respectful term for a person senior to you in school/workplace/etc.
    @ 48 : I think it’s ‘nampyung’ and ‘ah-neh’ (or the older term, ‘bu-in’) but don’t take my word for it. I’m learning korean through dramas. =P

    JB, I wanted to know what “makjang” meant – you have spoken about it in relation to several dramas but I wasn’t sure what exactly it meant..

    Thanks

  50. 50 Anonymous

    sana

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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