How’s it hanging?
Word on the street is, you wanna sound cool in Korean.
What’s the secret, you ask?
Well, come a little closer and I’ll tell you.
Here’s the deal: You need to learn Korean slang.
You’ve gotta talk to native speakers like you’re one of them. Can you dig it?
In all seriousness though, every Korean language learner needs to learn slang.
Not only is it fun, but you need it more than you think. And here’s why…
Why Learn Korean Slang?
As you probably already know, slang is an informal category of words and phrases, often used by a specific group, like young people. People use it to prove they’re in the know, or that they belong.
When a father scratches his head because he doesn’t understand 70% of what his teenage son just said, that’s probably because of slang. He doesn’t understand young people because they’ve established different meanings for words, and he’s not supposed to know those meanings because he doesn’t belong to the (age) group. So when a dad tries to be cool by dressing in an oversized jersey and going, “‘Sup, my homies,” it’s his teenager’s turn to start scratching his head.
Now, Korean culture works the same way. Koreans have slang to differentiate standard Korean, often found in written forms, from the Korean that’s used in daily conversations. So you have to learn Korean slang because—just as slang in English often eventually extends beyond a particular age group or subculture and goes mainstream—it’s actually how an average Korean talks. In the case of more widespread slang, the in-group becomes most Korean natives engaged in conversation.
This is the Korean you’ll hear in the streets, outside the textbooks and language labs.
It’s the Korean that you need to know when faced with native speakers. It’s the language you hear when you’re at a cafe in Seoul, when you’re given directions to the nearest bus stop or when you’re watching your favorite Korean drama.
This is the type of Korean they can’t teach you in grammar textbooks because slang, rather than strictly observing rules, is playful with the language. Slang tinkers with grammar rules and even violates them. And also, slang is rooted in more recent cultural developments. A grammar book, written and completed years before, cannot possibly take these things into account.
Luckily, unlike the teenager who doesn’t want dad to be in on the lingo, Koreans are a very welcoming people and would love for you to know the slang they use in everyday conversations.
20 Korean Slang Words for Work, Life, Love, K-pop and More
The Korean slang here represents a healthy cross-section of the informal linguistic expressions you’ll find in the language. Many of these words have been concocted by young people, and have since entered mainstream usage.
Each slang word below is shown in Hangul (Korean writing) and an approximate Romanization. If you haven’t started learning Korean yet or are just getting started, it won’t take you long at all to master the Korean alphabet, so you shouldn’t need to rely on the Romanization too much.
To hear these words used in real life (as is essential with slang), check out the Korean videos on FluentU.
We’ll include examples of slang you may hear blurted out by your favorite Korean actors and actresses, or in a Korean rap song. We also have some words lifted from the world of work. And because Korea is known for its online culture, we have examples of internet lingo as well.
But no, we won’t include bad words, curse words or naughty words on this list. (We know you already know them.)
1) 대박 (dae-bak)
This expression means “Awesome!” (or “Jackpot!”).
This is an expression that should always be paired with an exclamation point and some serious fist pumps. (Really!) It’s used to express one’s exhilaration regarding the awesome thing that has just happened.
You won the lottery? 대박!
You just aced an exam? 대박!
Your Korean friend says he’ll treat you for dinner? 대박!
Well, you get the idea.
2) 베프 (beh peuh)
This is the Korean equivalent of “BFF.”
베프 is short for 베스트 프렌드 (be-su-tu peu-ren-deu) which is the Korean appropriation for “best friend.”
That Korean friend who always treats you for dinner and is a ready shoulder to cry on?
He or she is probably your 베프. Cherish that friend. On the other hand, if flowers and cards are involved, it’s probably time to go to the next item…
3) 남친 (nam-chin) / 여친 (yeo-chin)
These are Korean slang terms for “boyfriend”/”girlfriend.”
Koreans love keeping their articulations short. 남친 is short for 남자 친구 (nam-ja chin-goo), which literally means “boyfriend.” 여친 is short for 여자 친구 (yeo-ja chin-goo), or girlfriend.
This is sort of like how in English, instead of saying “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” you might use “bf” and “gf” instead.
Our next one is also related to the boyfriend/girlfriend concept. More specifically, the lack thereof.
4) 모쏠 (mo-ssol)
This is someone who has never had a boyfriend or girlfriend
This is a shortcut for 모태 솔로 (mo-tae-sollo), or literally, “solo since being in mother’s womb.”
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
5) 치맥 (chi-maek)
치맥 is a compound word for chicken and 맥주 (maekju — beer), which is a perfect companion for those cold Seoul nights. And if you’ve stepped foot in Korea within the last four years, you know how the chicken and beer combo has exploded onto the food scene. The phenomenon can be traced back to the hit Korean romantic-comedy series “My Love from the Star,” where actress Jun Ji-hyun of “My Sassy Girl” fame played a chicken-and-beer-loving character.
The fans’ response to the sight of her holding chicken in one hand and beer in the other was electric. People queued for hours just to order spicy fried chicken. Chicken-themed stalls and restaurants mushroomed all around the country. The 치맥 wave even hit China, where the show was also a certified hit.
6) 닭살 (dak-sal)
Speaking of chicken, this expression literally means “chicken skin.”
This expression is often a reaction to something cheesy—like when your couple friends publicly show affection and you’re their unwanted third wheel. (And it’s even worse if it’s your parents doing that at the dinner table!)
This slang can also be used for something spooky, just like “goosebumps” in English is associated with something that gives you the chills—like hearing about the mysterious disappearance of the neighbor’s cat.
So for anything cheesy or spooky, 닭살 can be your go-to expression.
7) 콜 (kol)
“I’m in!” or “Sure!”
This is probably the last word heard from Korean teenagers before they get into trouble—like wrecking the car, or skipping classes and going on a drinking spree (basically anything involving any dare/bet that could result in a good story years later). 콜 is the Koreanized pronunciation of the English word “call,” used to signify that the person who said it is game.
This expression can also be used for trivial pursuits. Like when your friends ask you if you’re going to the movies with them. You can say “콜!” to mean that you’re in and that you’re definitely going.
Be fluent in Korean in four months? 콜!
8) 막장 (mak-jang)
막장 is a situation so ridiculous it couldn’t possibly get any worse. Like in your favorite Korean drama, where the leading character has had bad breaks since birth—born into a poor family, couldn’t get a decent job, rejected by her great love and, on top of it all, in the crosshairs of a vengeful lady tyrant. Her situation couldn’t possibly get any worse. Sadistic writers love to immerse characters in these kinds of situations.
An example of a 막장 series is “Temptation of Wife,” which features a woman who was not only cheated on by her husband but was also left to drown at sea (while pregnant!). She survived, and now, she’s out to get revenge on her husband and his mistress (who’s now his wife), by playing a different character. She’ll seduce the husband and get him to kick his second wife out of the house.
Basically, 막장 is used for a situation so patently outrageous or ridiculous it could only happen in a TV drama.
9) 아싸 (ah-ssa)
This is “Oh yeah!” or “Yay!” in Korean.
Like 대박, this one also requires some serious fist pumps.
The airline found your lost bag? 아싸!
Got upgraded to the suite room? 아싸!
“You are not the father!” 아싸!
10) 만렙 (man-leb)
Meaning “level 10,000,” this refers to a person who’s so good at something they’re on the nth level. The idea is taken from online gaming where levels signify the skills and expertise of your character. The maximum level in “World of Warcraft,” for example, is 110. So to be level 10,000 is just ridiculous.
This is a superlative that indicates you’re far above others in a certain skill—whether it’s boxing, racing or licking stamps.
11) 사차원 (sachawon)
This means “4D,” or “eccentric.” A four-dimensional person is one who’s unique. The eccentricity might refer to their personality, the way they dress or their way of thinking. To be described as 4D isn’t really an insult. In fact, many Korean celebrities are considered 4D by their fans. And this eccentricity makes them endearing to their faithful.
T.O.P. of Big Bang is considered 4D not just by fans, but by other members of his group. He may look all business on stage, but behind the scenes, he’s a wacky fellow who wears wacky hats and loves to laugh and play pranks. Yesung of Super Junior is in the same camp, and the fans love him for it.
So if your Korean friends call you 사차원, don’t take it too hard. They think you’re eccentric… in a good way.
12) 비번 (bee-bon)
This one you should never forget, because it means “password.” 비번 is short for 비밀번호 (bee-mil-bon-ho), which literally means “secret number.” Needless to say, your password is supposed to be a secret, but it shouldn’t be a secret even to you.
Another way to say “password” is 암호 (am-ho).
13) 멘붕 (men-bung)
멘붕 is short for 멘탈붕괴 (men tal bung goe), which literally means “mental breakdown.” It refers to the mental state of a person who just had a severe negative experience. Some of the things that can cause 멘붕 include:
- Finding out over Facebook your crush just got into a new relationship.
- Finishing a 4-hour statistics exam, and not knowing if you passed.
- Your laptop crashing when you have no backup files.
14) 꿀잼 (ggul-jaem)
Literally, this expression means “honey fun.” When you describe something enjoyable, interesting or awesome, you say it was 꿀잼. It can refer to the date you went on last night, or a movie you saw with a friend.
But what about when your date was about as fun as going to the dentist? Or when the supposed horror movie you saw had you sleeping instead of shouting? How do you say “boring” and “no fun”?
You say “노잼 (no jaem).”
Homework is 노잼.
Household chores are 노잼.
Staying at home on a Saturday night is definitely 노잼.
15) 불금 (bool-geum)
This is the Korean “TGIF.” Anybody who has worked for a living can relate to this one. 불금 is the short version of 불타는 금요일 (bool-ta-neun geum-yo-il), or “Burning Friday.” It’s the yearning for the last day of work before the weekend, when one will finally be able to sleep in late after a night of 치맥 with coworkers and friends.
And because life is composed of yin and yang, there’s another Korean slang word that refers to employees’ tendency towards office escapism. It’s 월요병 (wol-yo-byung), or “Monday sickness.” It’s the feeling you get when you’re faced with another week at the office. Ah, the life of a worker.
16) 엄친딸 (um-chin-ddal)
Ever met a woman who’s got everything: looks, brains, money? She’s so good at her job and she’s got everything together. She’s 엄친딸 (mom’s friend’s daughter). And your mom wants you to be like her.
Korean mothers love to compare their own daughters with those of their friends. And in this comparison game, their poor daughter rarely wins. I mean, never wins. The grass is always greener on the other side: “Her daughter went to Harvard and has a boyfriend who’s a doctor. They’re going to get married this year—look, I got the invite! She just got promoted to partner and was also recently featured in a popular magazine.” (Meanwhile, this mother’s own daughter just got dumped by her loser boyfriend who hasn’t had a decent job in years.)
And life’s not fair all around. Boys have their own version of this concept, a Ken-doll type. He’s 엄친아 (um-chin-ah) or “my mom’s friend’s son.” This guy eats death threats for breakfast.
17) 썸 (ssum)
썸 is the “something” that happens before becoming lovers. It’s the thrill of the chase, the excitement of doing new things with a potential partner. It’s the push-and-pull of courtship. It’s the guy finally getting the date. It’s the girl acting all demure. It’s the intricate and intoxicating dance between would-be lovers.
Boom! Then reality.
18) 프사 (peu-sa)
This one here is yet another clue that young people are really the major source of Korean slang, or slang in any language for that matter.
프사 is that infamous profile picture. It’s the first thing the online world sees before they unfairly judge you. Gotta look cool, gotta look happy, gotta look well-traveled in this picture. So you gotta ask a friend to take the perfect shot—a silhouette of you against the Santorini sunset .
For other pictures in the album, a 셀카 (sel-ka) will do. This is short for “self camera,” or a selfie. Take lots of them! Shoot from different angles and with different facial expressions! Smile ’til your jaw breaks!
Then, all that hard work will be uploaded to 페이스북 (pe-i-su buk), or Facebook, so all your friends can “like” it and comment on how much they envy your perfect life.
19) 파이팅 (paiting) / 화이팅 (hwaiting)
This is a cheer you’ll often hear during sports events. It’s used to boost the morale of a person about to undergo a tough task.
파이팅 is Konglish and is rooted in the English word “fighting.” It’s an expression of support and can be roughly translated as “C’mon!” or “You can do it!”
I’m sure you’ve heard this in Korean dramas if you watch them: When someone’s about to go inside the classroom to take a test, when someone’s about to go for a job interview, go on a date or even eat a huge meal prepared by a mother-in-law!
You’ll find 파이팅 more commonly used in standard written Korean and 화이팅 in spoken form. Native speakers can understand you either way.
20) 행쇼 (haeng-syo)
The term was popularized by the K-pop idol G-Dragon. By now, you’ve probably noticed that Koreans love to shorten things. 행쇼 is short for 행복하십쇼 (haeng bok ha sip syo), which means “Be happy!” but is used to say “Goodbye.”
Say this as you leave your group of friends. And if you’re a K-Pop superstar and have just finished a concert, you can leave the stage with a 행쇼. This expression can roughly be translated as “Peace out!” (The mic drop is optional.)
So that’s it for our tour of Korean slang.
Korean, like any other language, is continually evolving, so be assured, more slang will be coming your way. Be on the lookout for it.
Good luck with your Korean language studies. You can do it! 파이팅!
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