Do you remember the first time you encountered slang in a text message?
Probably not, because for those of us in the digital know-how, it has become so ingrained in our lives that typing out the LOLs and IDKs is almost second nature!
But without knowledge of the workings of text slang, any line in a text conversation would seem like utter gibberish.
In your Korean language learning journey, you’ve probably become aware of some real-life slang that shows off the fun quirks of not just the language but the culture as well.
Korean text slang does that too, but it’s in combination with technology, the convenience needed for our typing fingers and the need to get that message out fast. It thus becomes its own little subset of the language and follows its own rules.
So, you may be wondering: Why should I learn text slang in addition to proper Korean? We’ll answer this question below and then teach you the most common Korean text slang!
Why You Should Learn Korean Text Slang
South Korea is big on communications and network connection while being first worldwide in the percentage of smartphone ownership.
Its largest and most popular social media platform, KakaoTalk, is used by most of these smartphone owners, who regularly enjoy it for texting and chatting services. So, you can imagine just how much text slang is used in a country so digitally connected.
Learning text slang is also just a good impetus for you to learn more Korean in general. As you’ll see, much of how Korean text slang works requires you to know the words and phrases they’re derived from.
Also, as is common with digital communication, the world of text slang is always being updated and expanded, so you’ll be kept on your Korean-study toes as you engage with it.
One way you can stay on top of new Korean vocab and slang is to tune in to authentic Korean sources, like blogs, news sites and popular videos. You can find tons of content all in one place by using FluentU, like, for example, this video of what it’s like to be a celebrity follower!
Here's a quick look at the variety of video choices available to you:
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
Don't stop there, though. You can use FluentU’s unique quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions.
FluentU even tracks your progress and remembers all the words you've learned, making for a 100% personalized experience.
Review sessions use video context to help embed the words in your memory. The best part? You can access the full FluentU video library with a free trial!
Start using FluentU Korean on the website or download the app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
Short & Sweet: A Quick Guide to Korean Text Slang for the Modern Learner
How Korean Text Slang Shortens Words
Much like text slang anywhere, Korean text slang mostly relies on abbreviating existing words. But since we’re dealing with the Korean language, where words are made by stacking characters beside and atop each other, things are a bit different.
Korean text slang is often just shortened versions of full phrases. “Shortened” here usually means using the very first characters of each syllable in the phrase. This is where your knowledge of Hangul, the Korean alphabet, will come in handy because all you’ll need sometimes are just singular vowels or consonants. At times, looking at Korean text slang can be like looking at someone just typing out the alphabet!
There’s also plenty of Korean text slang based on English words. You may be aware of Konglish, the use of English words in a Korean context. These English loanwords don’t always keep their original meanings, and sometimes they even becoming mistranslations.
아이쇼핑 (ah-ee-sho-peeng) — lit. “eye shopping” but means “window shopping”
개그맨 (geh-gih-men) — lit. “gag man” but means “male comedian”
화이팅 (hwai-ting) — lit. “Fighting!” but essentially means “Good luck!”
While perceptions of Konglish differ, with a number of criticisms concerned about the growth of the use of English in Korean speak, it’s undeniable that a variation of English has become a mainstay in common Korean conversation. It’s especially prolific in text slang.
Special Features of Korean Texting
There are also little gimmicks in Korean texting. One of them is the use of purposeful typos. We do that in English text slang too, with words like “wut” instead of “what” or “chu” for “you,” usually as a means of expressing a certain mood.
However, typos in Korean text slang are often a means of saving time and keystrokes. Misspellings are usually based on how the word sounds, so the correct character is simply substituted with a similar-sounding one instead.
For example, 뭐해 (mwo-heh), which means “What are you doing,” can be misspelled to 머해 (muh-heh).
This example cuts out the keystroke needed for the ㅜ character. If you ever get confused by a typo, try sounding out the phrase aloud and you’ll probably get what it means!
Ways to Sound Cute
Korean texting also has a way of sounding “cute.”
If you’ve watched Korean TV shows or are familiar with K-pop, you may know the term 애교 (ae-gyo), which describes a way of appearing cute by acting in an affectionate, childlike manner.
Aegyo can be done in texting several ways. A common one includes adding the ㅇ character to the end of words, even when it doesn’t naturally exist there, to create more amusing, cute speech.
For example, you can change the statement 배고파 (beh-go-pa), which means “I’m hungry,” to 배고팡 (beh-go-pang).
Another common way aegyo is done in texting is by adding ~ to the end of sentences, which emphasizes a kind of friendliness.
For example, adding it to 안녕 (anyoung), which means “Hello,” to make it 안녕~~~ would result in it being said aloud like anyoungggg. The more ~ added, the longer the sound is extended.
Knowing these two features may lessen some of the confusion when reading Korean text messages. Now, let’s get on with the text slang!
21 Common Korean Text Slang
1.ㅋㅋ (a sound of laughter)
This comes from 크크 (kuh-kuh). This is the Korean text slang equivalent to the English “LOL.” The more ㅋ you include, the more you’re laughing, so don’t be surprised to see whole strings of ㅋ. Whatever you said, it clearly hit your conversation partner’s funny bone.
2. ㅎㅎㅎ (hahaha)
This comes from 하하하 (ha-ha-ha). While ㅋㅋ tends to be more frequently used, this too gets the same feeling across, perhaps implying a somewhat softer kind of laugh. The same rule for ㅋㅋ applies, where the more ㅎ you include, the more the person is laughing.
3. ㅍㅎㅎ (puhaha)
Similar to 푸하하, this is a more comical, stronger version of expressing laughter. Imagine someone actually vocalizing this aloud; you’d have no doubt that they found something genuinely funny.
4. ㅇㅋ (OK)
Here’s one of those instances of English loanwords. Properly written, “OK” in Korean would be 오케이 (oh-keh-ee), which is further shortened to 오키 (oh-kee), and so ㅇㅋ just takes the first consonants, 오 and 키. The meaning is the same as in English—a simple note of acknowledgment.
5. ㅇㅇ (yes)
From 응, this is a simple, informal way of saying “yes.” You probably already know that the proper way of saying yes is 네, but remember that Korean text slang already implies that formality is taking a break from your conversation.
6. ㄴㄴ (no no)
From 노노 (no-no), this is another transliteration of the English “no no.” It means what it sounds like—a negatory message.
7. ㅎㅇ (hi)
From 하이 (ha-ee), this is a transliteration of the English “hi” and, pleasantly enough, it’s also only two characters long.
8. ㅂㅂ/ㅃㅃ (bye-bye)
These come from 바이바이 (ba-ee ba-ee) or the more cutesy 빠이빠이 (ppai-ppai). Either is a friendly way to end a chat. You can write ㅂㅇ as well. You can probably see the strong inclusivity of English in Korean text slang at this point!
9. ㄱㄱ (go go/let’s go)
This comes from 고고 (go-go). It’s a message for someone to get out or do something, such as hang out with the sender.
10. ㅊㅋ (congrats)
From 축하해요 (chook-ha-heh-yo), this is a common Korean phrase expressing congratulations, with 축하 being a shorter and less formal way of doing so. The slang form is a good example of cutting down a phrase to its basics!
11. ㄱㅅ (thanks)
From 감사 (gahm-sa), this is an informal way of saying thank you, which itself is a cut-down version of the more formal 감사합니다 (gahm-sa-hap-ni-da).
12. ㅅㄱ (good work)
This one comes from 수고하세요 (soo-go-ha-seh-yo), a common phrase complimenting someone on a job well done. Make sure you don’t accidentally flip the characters to write ㄱㅅ!
13. 헉! (OMG)
This is pronounced huk, which, when vocalized, does come off as a choked, surprised sound. It has a variant, 헐 (hul), with the same meaning. Use this when you essentially mean to say, “No way!” or, “Whoa!”
14. ㄷㄷ (expressing fear, shock, amazement)
This comes from 덜덜 (duhl-duhl), which means “shivering” or “quivering.” This is used in response to something that induces goosebumps.
15. 어케 (How?)
Remember when we talked about purposeful typos for the sake of fewer keystrokes? This is one example.
어케 is derived from the proper way to ask “how,” 어떻게 (uh-dduh-geh), but when spoken in normal speed and cadence, it can sound a bit like 어떠케 (uh-dduh-keh) since the enunciation of 떻 ends rather sharply with the ㅎ consonant lingering at the bottom. The slang 어케 takes note of that to enable its own abbreviation.
16. 잼게/잼께 (have fun)
This comes from 재미있게 (je-mi-eet-geh), which means “having fun.” This slang is a little different in its method of abbreviation, as it combines 재 with the ㅁ of the succeeding syllable and then the entire concluding syllable of the phrase. It’s worth noting that 재미있게 is pronounced like 재미이께, which is why we can change 게 to 께.
17. ㅁㄹ (IDK)
This comes from 몰라 (mol-la), which means “I don’t know.” IDK is always a favorite in English text slang, and its Korean version is even shorter to type!
18. OTL /ㅇㅈㄴ (defeat or disappointment)
This is an emoticon that has also made its way into English text slang, likely because of its use of English letters. You can probably see the image of a man kneeling, with his head (O or ㅇ) hung down, his torso and arms to the ground (T or ㅈ) and his legs (L or ㄴ) also positioned flat. This is the symbol of sheer defeat, disappointment or exasperation.
19. ㅠㅠ/ㅜㅜ (crying eyes)
Another emoticon using the vowel ㅠ or ㅜ, this combination resembles a pair of closed eyes with tears streaming down them.
20. ㅇㅁㅇ (shocked face)
It’s nice that Korean characters are quite simple in shape because, with only three of them, you get an easy-to-read visual of a face with wide-open eyes and an open mouth.
21. 0ㅠ0 (vomiting)
The ㅠ vowel serves its common purpose as a visual of something flowing out—in this case, puke! Use this when you’re sickened by what you just read… or if you actually feel like throwing up.
So, now you know some slang that you’ll no doubt be using in Korean text conversations, and soon you’ll be an expert at deciphering any jumble of seemingly random characters!
Remember: Text slang is often used for very common phrases, so don’t immediately assume a few characters are referring to a very complicated, original phrase. Just think simply, and when in doubt, sound out the characters so you can get an audible hint as to where they’re derived from.
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