Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Korean Lesson: 멘붕

In the two years since I've come to Korea, my Korean has improved dramatically. I don't have many foreign friends here, so I hang out with only native Koreans. 

Yes, I use English at work quite a bit, but it's still only about 10 - 20% of my workday (unless I'm on set or a business trip, of course). Because I work with mostly Koreans, I use Korean much more than English even at the office. 

While I will never fully grasp the Korean language (there's too many Chinese characters still used, I don't have the historical cultural context, etc.), I'm getting pretty good. It helps that my parents always made us speak in Korean at home, knowing full well that we'd be educated solely in English (thanks, parents!) except for those three years of French classes (my French is awful).

So I thought, since I've been a bad blogger lately, that a quick and easy thing to blog about would be Korean. I'll jot down some Korean phrases, words, etc. that I think are fun or useful or whatever. I'll try it out and see if it works, anyhow. 

Let me preface this by saying that Korean pronunciation and American English pronunciation are WORLDS apart. It is not easy for an American to learn to speak Korean, and vice versa. I am very lucky that I spoke Korean at home from babyhood, because it means that my American accent is pretty much nonexistent when I'm speaking in Korean. 

So the pronunciations that I'm going to use are what my American ears hear when people say these Korean words. They won't look anything like what a Korean-English dictionary would say, because I am not a romanization scholar or expert. First lesson!

멘붕 pronounced mehn-boohng, is a contraction (Koreans love shortening words and phrases) of:

멘탈붕괴 (mehn-tahl boohng-gweh)

멘탈 is a transliteration of the English "mental," as in mental state.
붕괴 is a Korean word that means "collapse" or "disintegration" or "ruin." 

These words combined portray a state of mental shock or mental collapse. For instance:

Amy: What's wrong with Colin?
          Colin 왜저래?
Ben: His girlfriend just broke up with him ... via text message.
          여자친구가 금방 문자 보냈데 헤어지자고.
Amy: Oh, man, he must be [in a state of] 멘붕.
          아이고, 멘붕이겠네.

Koreans will say that a person is 멘붕, 멘붕 is about to come upon someone, and on and on. This is a word to be used in casual settings (not in a meeting with CEOs and VPs, for instance) and among friends. It's slang, so some older people will not understand it. It's very widely used among people in their 30's and younger, and perhaps by 40-somethings, as well.

Korean is a fascinating language, as I'm sure all languages are. If I had the time and means, I would try to learn more languages-- language and food seem to contain all cultural aspects of any given society. For now, I'm going to cram as much Korean into my brain as I can while trying not to lose any of the English in there!