National Korean Language Institute Seeks to Eliminate Konglish

A possible outgrowth of the importance of English test scores in modern Korean society, the ever increasing use of English loanwords in the Korean language has become a source of controversy. The argument revolves around whether Korea should go the way of France, and ban excessive loanword usage, or if Korea should embrace its partially bilingual new society. Many netizens react by pointing out the ridiculousness of an attempt to replace loanwords that express a concept foreign to Korea.

Article from Yonhap News:

The National Institute of the Korean Language suggests using the term maensoneumsik, or “bare-hands food” rather than the loanword, “finger food”

Instead of saying “finger food,” which means food eaten with one’s hands, the National Institute of the Korean Language has chosen to replace it with the korean word maen-son-eum-sik (맨손음식) which literally means “bare-hands food.”

On the website Malteo, a committee within the National Institute of the Korean Language has been collecting suggestions for loanword replacements through the “Refined Language” campaign. In the food category, three loanwords were recast into “refined Korean words” and published on the website earlier this month.

The term “finger food,” which means food eaten with bare hands rather than with a fork, chopsticks, or other utensil, is a loanword that has recently become popular in the food industry.

Another loan word, “color food,” which means eating food in a variety of colors to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, was revamped as the pure Korean word saek-ggal-meok-geo-ri (색깔먹거리), literally meaning ‘color food’. Another Korean term with the same meaning, saek-ggal-sik-pum (색깔식품), was also voted in.

The loanword, “food bank” was reborn as meok-geo-ri-na-num-teo (먹거리나눔터) [food sharing place]. This word refers to an organization or place dedicated to collecting leftovers from soup kitchens or homes, as well as non-perishable food items to distribute to those in need.

The Malteo website awards a limited-time gift certificate to users whose suggestions are selected.

Comments from Naver:

The National Institute of the Korean Language is definitely a necessary organization but it seems like they don’t always do things that are necessary.


Then, it [maensoneumsik] sounds like some food made with bare bands….


“Bare-hand food”…ke ke ke. That sounds so awkward. Since they are supposed to be experts, I thought they would come up with a more acceptable word. How would they even date, ke ke ke? [Because they are clueless.]


“Finger food” sounds better.


The intention is good, but it’s a bit funny..


Doesn’t “han-ip-eum-sik” [one-bite food, 한입음식] sound better?


Why stop there? Why don’t they change “hamburger” to “go-gi-bbang-ssa-gae” [meat bread-wrap, 고기빵싸개] then?


That’s too much like North Korea and the nuances change [when you translate it like that]. It would’ve been better if they tried to loosely translate it into “han-ip-eum-sik” [one-bite food] rather than literally translate it.


Things like this happen when they follow ideas from department heads and the like.


Those words didn’t naturally stem from Korea. Why should we convert those loanwords to Korean words… It’s inefficient and pointless.


And the Institute of Korean Langage will suggest “jot-bbang-ggu” for DickPunks.


“Bare-hand food” sounds like something from India. Why don’t they literally translate it as “son-ga-rak-eum-sik” [finger food] or “jip-ge-eum-sik” [tweezer food], ke ke ke. Are we going prehistoric with “bare-hand food” or what…


It is good to fix bad expressions, but I wonder if they even need to change internationally used sports terms or everyday loanwords. If there is a country doing that, that is North Korea.


It feels a bit unnatural. Is it just me?


Fast food would be “bba-reun-eum-sik” [fast food] then.

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  • Joey

    Change all the Sino-Korean words to proper Korean words!

  • Pretty sure Koreans invented words like “reaver”, “timing”, “hatchery”, “plague” etc. which the English borrowed to supplement their own language.

    • Alex Dương

      You forgot “fighting.” NEVER FORGET.

      • punkpanda

        Korean’s usage of ‘fighting’ as a cheer was introduced by Japanese, if I’m not mistaken.

        • Insomnicide

          The Japanese cheer is ganbatte, so I don’t know where they got ‘fighting’ from…

          • chucky3176

            It’s not “fighting”. It’s pronounced “hwighting”, with a hard “h”.

          • Claude

            It’s “Fighto!!”

          • punkpanda

            fighting -> Hwai-to (Japan) -> Hwai-ting (Korea)

            Normally Koreans pronounce English words starting with F as P.

          • Boris_Da_Bengal_Tiger

            Normally, yes.

            Anotherone is Ronaldo, who is called 호날두 in Korean. I thought it would have been 로날두 as Rs and Ls usually use the ㄹ character.

          • Edward Dela Peña

            Maybe because it was based from Rio Portuguese, where the “R” becomes an “H”.

          • Boris_Da_Bengal_Tiger

            I don’t know. Could be, but everyone calls him Ronaldo, with the R making an R sound. So it is strange.

          • TheKorean

            Hwaiting is a loan word from English, “Fighting”, its a common usage these days from South Koreans.

          • HLynne

            It is a loan word via Japan however.

          • TheKorean

            Hwaiting or Paiting isn’t a loan word from Japan. You’re mistaken.

          • HLynne

            Yep. You’re right that you can tell it came from English to Korea via Japan due to the “h” rather than the “p” sound. If you want an example of it being used in Japan, they use it in an episode of Gokusen (which is a really fun Japanese drama).

            I’m not opposed to Korea eliminating Konglish. Konglish words sound sloppy and confuse me when I try to learn Korean and confuse Koreans when they try to learn English! LOL

          • Arendelle

            Most koreans would pronounce Fighting as ‘Pighting’ or ‘Hwighting’ since there’s no ‘F’ pronouncation in Korean. But according to proper loanword orthography of Korean language, pronouncing and marking ‘F’ as ‘P’ is the rule so saying it as ‘Pighting’ would be correct.

          • Yaminah Jamison

            Well I think they say fight-o too in japan…. not far off

  • Anna Presman

    We have am institute like that in Israel that comes up with Hebrew words to replace all those scary loan words. Nobody cares, though.

    • Guest

      we have something similar in quebec xD

    • Zappa Frank

      we had in Italy during Mussolini’s time…it was pathetic like him

      • irmar

        It was one of the very few things in which he was right. If a hateful dictator plants trees to make a park, it’s not right to say trees are hateful. They can do a good thing every now and then. Don’t be afraid to be called a fascist if you love trees…

        • Zappa Frank

          it was simply stupid and shows no knowledge of how languages evolve.

  • zachary T

    I keep forgetting how unique American English is, maybe “bastardized” is a better term. With so many antecedents that created how we speak it today ( Latin, French, German, etc) and all the loan words that basically BECAME natural English words ( pajama, rickshaw, etc) It is so weird to think that some nations have ” language purity” departments. I can understand the reason, but changing the phrase “finger food” isn’t the the most pressing concern?

    • mr.wiener

      I recon Aussie English is just as bastardized [if not more so] than your poofy big-girls-blouse of a lingo :)

      • zachary T

        I suppose I should have said English in the most broadest sense. no offense intended. didgeridoo chazwazzer or whatever passes for “thank you” in Australian lol (^_^)

        • mr.wiener

          No wuckin’ forries mate!

    • ElectricTurtle

      A culture’s influence on the world is largely predicated on its rate of value exchange. Just as important as how much value it exports is how much it imports, and the latter is dependent on synthesis and syncresis. Meaningful cultural influence is much more difficult when the relationship is unidirectional.

    • irmar

      Finger food is just an example. They should try to limit as many as possible. Why use a foreign word when there is a perfectly good way to say the same thing in your own language?

  • I GUESS…

    our country tried to do this kind of thing too. they tried promoting nationalism in every way they could… sadly, they failed to do so because they, the lawmakers, couldn’t act what they wanted to preach.

  • Insomnicide

    China needs to do this with Manchurian words and Er Hua Ying.

    • In other words…just make Cantonese the official language.

      • Insomnicide

        They almost did…..not once but twice….

        • Do you have a legit source?

          I’ve researched this topic quite a bit and have never seen anything to suggest that this is anything more than a myth.

  • Peter Old

    In this case, the National Institute of the Korean Language (TNIKL) isn’t actually attempting to remove the Konglish in order to improve language ability, but to instead “purify the Korean language of loan words”. It’s about cultural identity and nationalism.

    TNIKL is on a campaign to clean the Korean language… from foreign influence. Why? … Bear with me for a moment.

    Cultural identity is particularly important to the Koreans who have a history of foreign invasion and occupation. The resultant Korean culture and thus the resultant Korean language is eclectic rather than independent. I believe Koreans (government especially) want to hide this fact.

    Simple examples of eclectic culture: 소주 & 삼겹살 came to Korea through the Mongol invasions. 태권도 was developed during the Japanese colonial period and combines karate with 택견. The list goes on… The important point is that Koreans will claim 소주, 삼겹살 & 태권도 as their own – ignoring the painful history of foreign invasion and occupation; and shame. *I think Koreans should be proud more than ashamed of their history*

    The history of Korea as tributary, neighbouring state to China [excuse the historical and naming simplifications] are the reason for Sino cultural influence in Korea – and importantly, the reason that so many Korean words (especially nouns) are derived from Chinese. I would say one reason for the fervor around 한글 policy and brainwashing is to conceal the true history, to develop cultural identity and a sense of national pride following the Japanese colonial period.

    The same is true with this “campaign for the cleaning of the Korean language”. This “campaign” is about cultural identity and nationalism. Foreign words imply foreign influence. It isn’t about “what sounds best” (as seen in the Korean comments) but “what feels right”.

    • TheKorean

      Soju, Taekwondo and Samgyeobsal are not loan words. Only about 50% of Korean vocabulary are from Sino-Korean origins and most can be replaced. It’s because of Korea’s confucian past. Pure Korean words are more preferrable because of easy usage, not because of what sounds best.

  • clairbeau

    Nothing wrong with wanting to use your own language, but this conversion looks heavy handed. Like any good translation, instead of taking a purely literal approach, there should be some appreciation for the nuances.

  • There should be more regulation against Konglish …and there should be strict regulation against Koreans exporting K-Pop vomit or any music produced by PSY

    • zachary T

      DO NOT TAKE AWAY MY ALL GIRL KPOP GROUPS! I agree with you on the Psy thing though….

  • timothy235

    More K pop and horror movies pleez. Export some Korean slang to the US. That would be cool. Better yet just send us Uhm Jung-hwa.

    • death_by_ivory

      You mean you dont use “fighting” all the time?

      • timothy235

        First it was the Asian horror. Then it was Girls Day and Crayon Pop. Today I watched my first K drama Protect the Boss and I’m totally hooked. Never been outside Europe/NA but I love all that stuff. Just learned fighting today, already used it five times. Fighting! *double fist pump*

        • death_by_ivory

          You should watch Pasta when you are done with Protect the boss.It is much better IMO.

    • examplesample

      People tried to make selca catch on in America but selfie took hold instead. It ain’t happenin’ cap’n.

  • chucky3176

    While I think this language purification is a perfect waste of time by those who have too much time in their hands, but I think I would support a movement to restore pure Korean origin names and replace the Chinese writing derived first and last names. That’s more feasible.

    • Sillian

      I gotta admit pure Korean first names sound pretty.

  • guest

    Good idea or not, it’s not going to work if people don’t cooperate. Any Frenchies out there? Do y’all actually use the replacements for English loan words they invent?

    • Ash

      We use the English loan words.

  • Jacob

    who cares about konglish.what about ferry disaster?

    • commander

      The constant updates by the minute on the sunken ferry makes it hard for koreaBang to offer an overview of the tragedy involving more than 200 lives missing with the submerged ship. It takes some time for the whole picture to emerge and koreaBang to get it translated and shared it with you.

      • linette lee

        The ferry crew members are so horrible. They told the kids to stay where they are and don’t move while the ship is sinking. Aren’t they supposed to tell everybody to try to move to upper deck away from the bottom of the ship or at least try to move to stay on top of the ship. That caused many lives. Like stay on top but outside not inside where you can get trapped. I wonder why the captain didn’t stay put in his cabin?

        If I ever get stuck in a burning building I will do whatever I can to get out and not stay put. I won’t listen to anybody on loud speaker or waiting for rescue. Just like 911 when they told everyone to stay put.

        • Claude

          Did you get banned from Chinasmack?

          • linette lee

            no. Why?
            Should I go there now to bust someone’s chops?

          • Claude

            Haven’t seen you there for a while. Sure go bust some chops.

        • aasdf

          that is why some people (at least the survivors in charge) are facing criminal charges I think.

    • YourSupremeCommander

      Yes, lets talk in Ferrish.

    • dst

      Netizenbuzz is doing a good job with updates/translations.

  • commander

    Although one language evolves in interaction with other languages, the Konglish that has pervaded wide and deep into Korean society threatens to undermine the foundation of the Korean language.

    The first step in making the Korean language keeping it chic is to coin terms for foreign words whose concepts have no corresponding Korean words. It is imperative given the fact that how to use language significantly affects one’s thought and collective identity.

    • TheKorean

      Konglish pertains to South Korea, not entire Korea or Korean language.

  • wnsk

    There must be some reason why all the examples have to do with food…but it’s not clear to me?

    • Because you are what you eat, and cultural purists do not want to ingest foreign things…

    • Sillian

      Food is one of the most ‘everyday’ things.

  • bigmamat

    This just sounds to me like another way for Koreans to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. It’s funny that a county committed to raising awareness of themselves as a world economy would at the same time be so hostile toward any kind of foreign influence. Maybe I have some kind of mental block. I think it’s because I’m American and can’t get behind a lot of our own xenophobic discourse either. When I hear politicians say that immigrants should learn English and that second language education in the U.S. is not necessary, I just get the willies. I think I’m correct when I say that Korean’s, just like American’s are making up new words all the time. Language is constantly changing and evolving. It’s a little misguided to try and tame it.

    • zsc

      I’m not Korean, so I’m not going to presume to tell them what to do with their own language, but I disagree with your assessment here. Comparing bigoted American xenophobia to trying to rid Korean of foreign influence is like apples and oranges. We Americans are doing that to be ethnocentric jerks, NKLI is doing this to combat American neoimperialism.

      I’m a black American, a descendant of the African people who were kidnapped and forced to come here to be slaves, so I am not very patriotic. At all. So I get what you mean when you say you get the willies. But, that’s not Korea.

      • bigmamat

        A lot of older Korean’s are pretty racist so you can defend their xenophobia all you want. As for the Americans, they invited us there and while younger Koreans do not appreciate the sacrifices of more than 50,000 Americans who died during the Korean war or all the money we have poured into to that country to help them build older Koreans still do. Korea and the U.S. have been talking for years about us leaving Korea and allowing them to take responsibility for their own defense but they keep pushing the date farther and farther into the future. Mostly because Korea has been focused on building their internal infrastructure and they still lack certain important military capabilities.

        English in case you hadn’t noticed is not just American. Many people speak English throughout Europe and Asia. English is the international language of commerce and finance, is that America’s fault probably yes but it’s a fact that can’t be denied. Korea just recently passed a law that didn’t get as much media play as this but it requires immigrant brides, most of them from south east Asian countries to learn Hangul before they marry and come to Korea. The law also put a restriction on how many brides can be introduced to a man at one time. This law has less to do with being Korean than it does about trying to curb the marriage broker industry and the problems that go along with it. My guess is that this new law is mostly symbolic because anyone that knows anything about language knows that new words find their way into the vernacular organically and cannot be controlled. You’re a black American and should know that new words and phrases fall in and out of common use all the time.

        • zsc

          LOL “xenophobia” when Korean people want to speak native Korean. Ok. Meanwhile the U.S. and the global economy demands English literacy and that’s just normal. Not American imperialism or anything. Right.

          This isn’t a big “affront” anyway. English loanwords continue to trend so we don’t have to worry our American little heads about it.

  • Yaminah Jamison

    Eh… maybe because I’m American I kinda see it as even in English, words get made up all the time so.. I dunno I think loanwords and inventing new words is pretty cool. Just sucks when they get construded as they trescend through different cultures.

  • Arendelle

    I’m so curious. 3days have passed after the horrendous disaster of Sewol ferry crash and we still don’t know if there’s any survivors in those 274 missing. Interestingly, I have seen not a single post telling about this incident , neither had I seen a single person talking about the topic. In case of Chinasmack, the news of Kunming station terror was reported the same day the tragedy happened. What’s Koreabang for? To gossip about minor news that even an orginal Korean like me haven’t heard of?

    • irmar

      Why aren’t you commenting on the page of the relevant article? Each page’s comments are dedicated to the article on that particular page.

  • bultak23

    English should replace Korean loan words like kimchi and call it Korean pickled cabbage, bulgogi as Korean barbeque, and chondenmal or Korean speech of blind subordination.

    • Sillian

      I know you are just being sarcastic but to be a bit technical, I don’t think the NIKL intends to replace ‘proper noun’ loanwords in general. If you take a look at the examples like ‘finger food’, ‘color food’, and ‘food bank’, there is no proper noun.

    • irmar

      These are words specific to a culture. Koreans wouldn’t replace pizza, spaghetti or hamburger which are typical to their respective countries and cuisines, and do not belong to Korea, they are imports and will remain imports. They want to replace the words for more general items which can easily have a Korean alternative.

  • death_by_ivory

    Virtually all languages evolve and loan all the time.There is no way to stop that.
    I havent been in my old country or used my native language for a while when I met a girl who was fresh from there.She said things I had to ask her what does it mean?It doesnt mean my language is dying out,just evolving.

  • Truck Furniture Maker

    I tell my students Konglish is fine as long as they realize it is Konglish. Konglish, Singlish etc. naturally occur when a culture encounters a new language and culture on a large scale. Nothing the government says about it will change anything.

  • irmar

    Excellent initiative. Every country should limit foreign words as much as possible. Concentrate in learning foreign languages well because it’s very useful, but when you speak your own language speak that one, not a bastardized entity. (Have you heard middle-class Indians? Every second sentence is sprinkled with English words).

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