English-Korean loanwords

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Korean has borrowed a number of words and word elements from English, sometimes giving them different meanings. This includes direct loanwords, and macaronic or hybrid English-Korean words. These words or word blends (portmanteaus) have entered Korean, often with different meanings than the original English. However, Koreans learners may often be unaware of the fact that the Konglish words have different meanings or usages than the original English words, or that the Konglish word is a purely Korean invention and does not exist in English. A famous example is the Korean word 화아팅 'hwaiting', from the English word fighting; in Korean, it is used as a cheer, like "go team" or "be strong" or "good luck" - which are rather different from the original English meaning. An example of a pure lexical invention is the Korean 스킨십 'skinship,' which does not exist in English; this is a word blend of English elements, and refers to affectionate touching (between friends or romantic partners) or what a few psychology and health researchers in the 1970s called "skin hunger" - the need or desire to receive or give friendly physical contact, such as between friends, as well as between romantic partners. However, there is no good, common English term that can serve as a good translation of 스킨십.

On the Internet, these are often referred to as Konglish words or vocabulary, which is not a very suitable term. The term Konglish is a pejorative term that refers to Korean-accented English or English marked by lexical, collocational, and grammatical L2 errors by Korean learners of English, which is not the focus of this article. Thus, the sometimes negative term Konglish for such Korean words is inappropriate; these borrowings show linguistic creativity and innovation, and follow similar patterns as in other languages, e.g., when English borrows words from other languages with altered meanings. For example, the German word Gesundheit for 'health' is used by English speakers, when we say "bless you" or "gesundheit" after someone sneezes.

However, if Koreans speaking English attempt to use these words with their Korean meanings, English speakers will have difficulty if they do not know Korean, leading to misunderstandings or failed communication. Thus, for Koreans learning English, knowing the differences between the original English and Korean meanings is necessary. Below is a list of the more common examples that could be problematic for learners.


1 Korean words with altered meanings

Korean term Original English word Original English meaning English meaning of Konglish term
다이어트 diet (1) eating habits, (2) weight loss program go on a diet, to diet
매니큐어 manicure nail care nail polish
미팅 meeting group assembled for some purpose group blind date, blind / group dating
비닐 vinyl a particular type of plastic (chemical name) plastic wrap / wrapping
사이다 cider lemon-lime or clear soda hot, spiced apple drink
사인 sign (1) to sign or put one's signature on a document, (2) a written notice a signature, to sign
샤프 sharp a company name (Sharp, maker of pencils and other products) mechanical pencil
커닝 cunning sly, sneaky; clever, but in an evil way (e.g., a cunning fox) cheating
코팅 coating covering (in general) lamination
토스트 toast toasted bread a toasted or grilled breakfast sandwich
팬티 pantie women's underwear underwear (men's or women's), cf. boxers, briefs
핫도그 hot dog hot dog wiener (sausage) on white bread bun with mustard & ketchup corndog
핸들 handle graspable part, e.g., door handle, bag handle steering wheel
헌팅 hunting hunting animals (with a weapon) trying to pick up guys / women (e.g., at a bar / club)
호치키스 Hotchkiss a company (now defunct) that made staplers in the early 20th century stapler
화이탕 fighting a physical or verbal conflict Go, team! (sports games); Cheer up! Be strong! Good luck! (personal encouragement)
팬시 fancy nice-looking, elaborate stationery, esp. nicer or fancy-looking stationery


2 Korean words shorted from English words

Korean term Original English word English equivalent of Konglish term
리모컨 remote control remote, remote control
에어컨 air conditioner AC, air conditioning / conditioner
콘센트 concentric (circles sharing the same center) electrical plug / plug-in, outlet, wall socket
FM “[army] field manual” protocol for loud, enthusiastic self-intro at parties or MT Ø (FM refers to FM radio); no equivalent cultural practice or word exists in English for Korean “FM” introductions
MT membership training Ø (no exact equivalent; maybe company/class retreat or outing)
AS, 에프터 서비스 after service Ø (closest term is customer service, which works differently than AS)


3 Korean word blends from English elements

Korean term Original English elements English equivalent of Konglish term
더츠 페이 Dutch pay go Dutch, split the bill
멀티탭 multi + tab power strip
백미러 back + mirror (car) rearview mirror
비닐하우스 vinyl + house vinyl greenhouse (greenhouse made of thick vinyl for agriculture)
사인펜 sign + pen marker, felt marker
선팅 sun + tint (?) car window tint or tinting, tinted windows
스킨십 skin + ship Ø (no English equivalent; maybe "affection touch / touching")
아이쇼핑 eye + shopping window shopping
오토바이 auto + bike motorcycle
와이셔츠 Y-shirt dress shirt, collared / button-up shirt
원피스 one-piece dress (In English, ‘one-piece’ can be any kind of garment, e.g., a swimsuit, or a type of baby clothing)
핸드 폰 hand + phone cell phone (US), mobile phone (UK); smart phone (universal)
오므라이스 omelet + rice Ø (no equivalent, since this is a purely Korean food item)
원룸 one room efficiency apartment (for an older, smaller, or cheaper apartment), studio apartment (for a nicer, larger, or more expensive apartment)
원샷 one shot Bottoms up!
칼라티 collar + t-shirt polo shirt
킥보드 kick + board scooter
포클레인 forklift + crane digger, excavator, backhoe, hydraulic shovel
셀카 self + camera selfie

4 Korean words from non-English sources

Korean term Origin English equivalent
아르바이트, 알바 German Arbeit, arbeiten part-time work, temporary work


Note: The Korean term 아르바이트 'arubait' is from the German Arbeit (a noun meaning 'work') or arbeiten (a verb meaning 'to work'), not from English. This is the normal German word for work (as in full-time or permanent work), but in Korean it refers to temporary or part-time work. In modern colloquial German, part-time or temporary work is called ein Job (noun) or jobben (verb) -- an example of where German has borrowed English words with altered meanings.