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Essential Words And Phrases You Should Know If You're A K-Drama Newbie

FYI, oppa does not translate to 'cute Korean guy.'
by Twila Bergania
June 01, 2019
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Like most people, my first forays into Korean TV shows and films were confusing and overwhelming. As a pre-teen, I had this secret obsession with F4 thanks to ABS-CBN's Tagalized version of Meteor Garden. This fangirling streak followed me to my young adult life when, years later, my college professor asked us to watch the award-winning Korean movie The Classic, starring a very young Song Ye Jin. I had to understand a few Korean words and phrases so that I could rework the film's script into a Tagalized dub and place the story in a more accurate Filipino context. It was difficult, for sure, but it was one of the most memorable college projects I've done because it motivated me to learn more about K-culture.

Chances are, you're new to all of this and overwhelmed too. You're probably just starting to get a hang of reading subs to get some context while watching these poreless faces on your small screen. The more you watch with subs, the more you realize how difficult it is to Tagalize dramas because of the stark cultural differences. For one thing, we don't really have a direct Filipino translation for words like aegyo, which translates to cute and is entirely a sub-culture on its own—much like how kawaii is a sub-culture in Japan.

Don't worry. You'll get better in time. You'll pick up a few valuable things apart from the kilig and you'll get a periscope view of South Korea's fascinating culture through these shows. While you're still getting used to it, here are words you'll surely encounter in your K-drama sessions. It might help to learn them now while you're still wading knee-deep into it.

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What are the genres?

Like your favorite American shows, Korean dramas do play within the usual categories such as action, fantasy, and rom-com. However, they also have field-specific genres such as medical (The Doctors, Good Doctor, Descendants Of The Sun, Doctor Stranger) and legal (Suits, While You Were Sleeping, Suspicious Partner). K-dramas can also be labeled based on their settings or historical references. For example, period dramas like Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Hwarang, and Moonlight Drawn By Clouds are called sageuk because they're set in the Joseon Dynasty era (1393 to 1897). A TV adaptation of a Korean comics or webtoon is called manhwa-drama and some great examples of this are My ID Is Gangnam Beauty, Cheese In The Trap, and What's Wrong With Secretary Kim?

There are also terms for certain shows that fall into specific archetypal tropes. Dramatic tear-jerkers with outrageous plot lines are often called melo—short for melodrama—or makjang. I'd say the Filipino equivalent of this would be our afternoon soap operas—the ones filled with catchy one-liners, heavy crying, out of context kidnap or explosion scenes, and gratuitous sampalan. Well-loved Tagalized K-dramas like Stairway To Heaven, Autumn In My Heart, and Winter Sonata were labeled makjangs because of their intense storylines that are borderline unrealistic. Meanwhile, a show about a younger man who falls in love with an older woman (Something In The Rain, Hello My Teacher, I Hear Your Voice) is called noona romance. If a show features ultra rich lead characters, it'll most likely be labeled a chaebol drama. Boys Over Flowers would be a perfect example of this, as well as The Heirs, Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, Secret Garden, and What's Wrong With Secretary Kim?

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Did you know they use honorifics?

Respect and hierarchy are tackled heavily across almost all K-dramas. The language they use in broadcasting and film is commensurate to the dynamics within their society. Banmal is a term you'll hear a lot in these shows and it refers to the language used for peer-to-peer conversations—meaning the ones younger characters use only with their same-aged friends or chingus (friends). The more polite version of this is called jondaemal which is used towards people who are older or of higher authority and is even a requisite language for a news broadcast. The lines between banmal and jondaemal could be clearly defined by listening intently to K-drama dialogues. If a character uses ~eyo or ~imnida at the end of their words and sentences, that means they're using jondaemal towards another character who could be a person of power. It also means they don't relate to the other character on a personal level.

Another good indication of character relationships is honorifics. When someone calls an older lady ahgassi or an older man ahjusssi, it means they're assuming that the person is older than them or is trying to address a stranger politely based on their age and gender. The ~ssi suffix is added at the end of one's name to mean mister or miss as a salutation for people who aren't very close to the speaker. In chaebol dramas, you would often hear lower ranked employees calling their bosses sajangnim (president) or hoobaes (juniors) calling their seniors sunbaenim. The ~nim suffix not only shows how high up a person is in their society, but it also indicates a high level of respect.

Meanwhile, there are honorifics that show both respect and closeness between two characters such as:

Oppa = An older brother to a younger woman

Unnie = An older sister to a younger woman

Hyung = An older brother to a younger man

Noona = An older sister to a younger man (Thus the term noona romance.)

Oemma = One's mother or mother figure

Appa = One's father or father figure

Harabeoji or Harmeoni = One's grandpa and grandma, or someone who's old enough to be their grandpa/grandma

Imo = A tita, or an older lady to a younger person they have close relations to

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So, what expressions do they use?

There are a ton of South Korean slang to be learned from K-dramas, especially youth-oriented ones like the School or Dream High series. Boyfriends and girlfriends not only call each other yeobeo (honey) or jagiya (sweetheart), they also speak about each other as their namchin and yeochin, which are truncated forms of namja chingu (boy friend) and yeoja chingu (girl friend). They say mi-sa as a way of saying "I'm sorry" (mianhae) and "I love you" (saranghae) in one breath. They also use SNS (Social Networking Service) in dialogues a lot because they use different platforms apart from Twitter and Facebook to connect. Of course, there are everyday expressions sandwiched in between dialogues that are super catchy, you'll probably end up using them in your daily life too. Some examples of Korean expressions are:

Omo or Omona = Oh, my god!

Aigo = Naku! (An expression used when someone is in shock, in pain, or is suffering because of major cuteness.)

Heol = No way! (An expression commonly used when one is in disbelief.)

Jjang or Hwaiting = Fighting! (An expression used when cheering for someone.)

Eottoke = How or What do I do?

Wae = Why?

Mwo = What?

Jinjja or Jebal = Please (The usage depends on how serious a request is; jebal being a plea rather than a request.)

Pali = Quick or faster

Chukahae or Chukahamnida  = Congratulations! (As in "saengil chukahamnida," where saengil means birthday.)

In the K-drama fangirling world, you'll also encounter specific terms used in forums and drama reviews. For instance, if someone is looking for raws it means they want to watch a K-drama with no subs. If someone is agonizing over a PPL or a Love Line it means they're either weirded out by a product placement within a drama or was emotionally affected by a drama's ship or love team. Netizens would often describe an actress' curvy figure as an S-Line. Reviewers also use the term SLS (Second Lead Syndrome) to refer to actors like Ji Soo and Seo Kang Jun who tend to land second lead roles in dramas with love triangles. Meanwhile, actors with pretty faces and mukhang mabango exteriors are often called flower boys and some of the names tossed around under this category are Kim Bum, Lee Jong Suk, Song Joong Ki, Lee Min Ho, and even Kim Taehyung from BTS.

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