As It Happens

Oxford English Dictionary adds 26 Korean words to 'enrich the English language'

A new influx of Korean words is making the English language “more diverse and beautiful,” says linguist Jieun Kiaer.

Influx of words comes amid rising popularity of South Korean culture among Western audiences

Members of the K-pop boy band Blitzers perform at a rehearsal studio in Seoul. The Oxford English Dictionary has adopted 26 Korean words amid a rise in popularity of Korean pop culture. (Kang Jin-kyu/AFP/Getty Images)

Story Transcript

A new influx of Korean words is making the English language "more diverse and beautiful," says linguist Jieun Kiaer.

The Oxford English Dictionary, one of the most recognizable authorities on the English language, added 26 Korean words to its latest edition as part of its September 2021 update.

Kiaer, a Korean linguistics professor at the University of Oxford, was a consultant on the project to update the dictionary, and says she's "very pleased" with the results.

"I feel very proud of these words and I'm very happy," she told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I believe that it enriches the English language."

Riding the 'Korean wave'

A dictionary's job is not to impose new words on a language, but rather to reflect how a language is evolving. And in recent years, Kiaer says there's been a notable uptick in Korean words used by English speakers. 

She credits the phenomenon to the "Korean wave" — a rise in popularity of Korean pop culture across the world. 

Jieun Kiaer is a professor of Korean linguistics and a consultant for the Oxford English Dictionary. (Submitted by Jieun Kiaer )

South Korean boy band BTS has pumped out chart-topping hits and fuelled an international obsession with the genre known as K-pop. The 2019 movie Parasite was the first foreign language film to win the best picture award at the Oscars, and became the highest-grossing non-English language film in the United Kindgom. The new TV show Squid Game is already on track to be Netflix's most popular series of all time. 

So it's no surprise, then, that many of the new words in the OED are related to pop culture. For example:

  • K-drama, n. - A television series in the Korean language and produced in South Korea.
  • hallyu, n. - The increase in international interest in South Korea and its popular culture, represented by the global success of South Korean music, film, TV, fashion and food.
  • manhwa, n. - A Korean genre of cartoons and comic books, often influenced by Japanese manga.

"If you read books, those words are very often translated so people cannot pick it up. But for Netflix dramas and films, although you can see the subtitles, you hear all the time, those words," Kiaer said.

Korean food 

A lot of the new entries are about food, which is also something Kiaer says people have picked up from the media they're consuming.

"A lot of times, you see people eating Korean food [in movies and TV] and people become ... very curious about those words," she said.

YouTube screenshots shows mukbang videos, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary: 'A video, esp. one that is livestreamed, that features a person eating a large quantity of food and talking to the audience.' (YouTube)

Some of the words related to food included in the update are:

  • chimaek, n. - In South Korea and Korean-style restaurants: fried chicken served with beer.
  • kimbap, n. - A Korean dish consisting of cooked rice and other ingredients wrapped in a sheet of seaweed and cut into bite-sized slices.
  • banchan, n. - A small side dish of vegetables, served along with rice as part of a typical Korean meal.
  • bulgogi, n. - In Korean cooking: a dish of thin slices of beef or pork which are marinated then grilled or stir-fried.
  • mukbang, n. - A video, especially one that is livestreamed, that features a person eating a large quantity of food and talking to the audience.

Some culinary words are examples of English speakers interpreting Korean words from videos they watch, Kiaer says.

For example, the dictionary changed the Korean word "meokbang" to the popular anglicized version, "mukbang." Kiaer says that change "is very significant because it somehow represents how people perceive Korean food words, rather than how it was first presented in Korean." 

She says these 26 new entries are just the beginning, as Korean culture continues to shine on the international stage.

"I think there will be many more," she said. 

You can see the full list of new entries here. 


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Ashley Fraser. 

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