South Korea is a country obsessed with the concept of love. This is a fact. You could ask any Korean and they’d be more than likely to tell you the same thing.
Because of this, from the Korean language has sprung an abundance of slang words that pertain to the concept of love and relationships. Since this aspect of the culture is so important, sometimes all consuming, it is important to be aware of the terms that are sure to make their appearance in conversations that pertain to this realm.
So let’s say you have a crush in Korea. This crush is your “심쿵 [shim-koong].” This term is a concept derived from the word for “heart” and the word for the sound your heart makes when it is beating. This word implies that you’re so into this person that, every time you see them, you’re heart beats furiously.
심장 [shim-jang], heart
쿵쿵 [koong-koong], the sound your heart makes when it’s beating
심 + 쿵 = 심쿵
Now, let’s say that this crush is showing interest in you as well. In Korea, much like in English, you would say that this crush is giving you the “그린라이트 [geu-lin-lie-ee-teu],” or “green light.” That is to say, they’re giving you the signal that there is something going on, and it’s okay to approach and try to start something.
With every relationship, there is the time period before being “official.” During this time you’re establishing the relationship with your significant other. In the United States, we would say that these people are “dating,” which implies that they’re exclusive, but still figuring it out.
In Korea, this period of time is called “썸 [sseom].” Shortened from the English word “something,” this word implies that the couple in question has “something” going on, but aren’t definite just yet. Similarly, another word for this era of a relationship, or maybe a little bit before the 썸 stage, is “케미 [keh-mi],” which is shortened from the English word “chemistry,” and used to identify that two individuals have some “chemistry” between them.
Now finally, you’re official! In the states, you would call your significant other your “boyfriend” or your “girlfriend.” In Korea, it is the exact same way. Your girlfriend is your “여자친구 [yeo-ja-cheen-gu],” a combination of the word for “girl” and “friend.” Your boyfriend would be your “남자친구 [nam-ja-cheen-gu],” a combination of the word for “boy” and “friend.”
However, the native speakers, at some point in the past, that saying either 남자친구 or 여자친구 just takes too long, so they narrowed them down to, respectively, “남친 [nam-cheen]” and “여친 [yeo-cheen].”
여자 [yeo-ja] girl
남자 [nam-ja] boy
친구 [cheen-gu] friend
남자친구 [nam-ja-cheen-gu], boyfriend
여자친구 [yeo-ja-cheen-gu], girlfriend
남 + 친 = 남친
여 + 친 = 여친
Now, unfortunately, there are the times where you just won’t get the guy or girl. In the United States, we would say “my friend who’s a boy” or “my friend who’s a girl.” However, in Korea, they’ve condensed it down to just one word, shortening and combining the words for “boy” or “girl,” “person,” and “friend.”
We know the word for “boy,” “girl,” and “friend,” so take those and condense them like we did for “boyfriend” and “girlfriend. However, now you’re going to take the word for “person” and also condense it to the first syllable “사.” Now take this “사” and place it in the middle of boyfriend or girlfriend.
So, you would say a boy that is just a friend is your “남사친 [nam-sah-cheen]” and a girl that is just your friend is your “여사친 [yeo-sah-cheen].”
사람 [sah-ram], person
남 + 사 + 친 = 남사친, a guy who is just a friend
여 + 사 + 친 = 여사친, a girl who is just a friend
From the beginning to the end of the relationship, the Korean language has a slang word for every step. I think this is a reflection of the importance of this realm of life to the Korean culture, it being so important that it naturally developed its own lexicon over time. They really are, as Beyonce would say, crazy in love.
Are there any relationship-oriented slang words that surprised you? What is your favorite word from this group of slang? Let me know in the comments below!