Korea: A Guide to Konglish Terms

A Guide to Konglish Terms in Korea

Konglish – “the use of English words (or words derived from English words) in a Korean context. The words, having initially been taken from English language, are either actual English words in Korean context, or are made from a combination of Korean and English words. …”

Konglish words are abundant in the Korean language. As an English speaker, the first time you hear them you might think that the person you’re speaking with knows some English. Hooray! But don’t be fooled…while it may sound English there is a big difference between what a Korean speaker understands the word to mean and what you and I (native English speakers) know it as, and you could be left scratching your head trying to figure out what the person is trying to say.

There are two main types of Konglish terms; ones where English words have changed their original meanings and others where two English words have been combined to create a new ‘English’ word. Here’s a guide to the most common Konglish words Tristan and I came across while living in Korea.

Changed Meanings

Cider – a clear soda drink (like Sprite or 7-Up).

I still remember my first encounter with this term at a restaurant my first week in the country. I was asked if I wanted some cider. I wasn’t particularly feeling like a hot apple drink at the time but agreed anyways. I was then taken aback when a green glass bottle with soda inside was placed on the table instead.

Service – to get something for free.

Regularly restaurants will give you a bottle of coke or ‘cider’ during your meal. They’ll then say “service” to indicate that it’s free or “on-the-house”.

Cunning – to indicate someone is copying or cheating off of you, as was commonly uttered from our students.

I taught my students the proper way to express a student is copying them, but I regularly heard the “cunning” term slipping back in. “Teacher, he’s cunning me!” I usually responded by saying “oh, he’s cunning you? So he’s smart and skilled at getting what he wants?” And then I’d turn to the “cunning” student and say “nice job!”

Sharp – a noun describing a mechanical or push lead pencil.

Hospital – a small medical centre for common ailments like a cough, sore throat, or muscle pain.

A few times I’d come into work not feeling the best and one of my co-teachers would ask me what was wrong. Since it was never anything serious, I usually just shrugged it off and said, “I think I’m fighting a cold”. My co-teachers would almost always respond with “oh you should go to the hospital, get medicine from the doctor!”

Fighting! – an encouragement, “you can do it!” or “go team go!”

You’ll hear this one a lot at any sporting events.

Muffler – a scarf.

This is probably the best example of an English word whose meaning has been changed so dramatically you wonder how they were taught it in the first place. The first time I heard this I was flabbergasted. “Teacher, I like your muffler!” “Huh?” was the only thing I could utter with a perplexed look splashed across my face. The student then pointed at the scarf around my neck and said, “your muffler, it’s nice”. After that, I made a point to teach every class I had for two weeks the difference between what they thought a muffler was and what I know a muffler to be.

Combined English Words to Make New Meanings

The most well known example of Konglish, meaning a cellphone.

The term used to describe the game pool or billiards.

To look but not to buy, as we might say, “I’m just browsing” or to “window shop”.

Koreans say this to mean two people are holding hands, touching or hugging.

An adjective to describe the shape of one’s body. S-line is considered a very sexy and sought after body shape.


What are some of the Konglish terms you’ve heard while visiting or living in Korea?


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