By Sang Kim and Jenna Gibson
If you’ve ever been in Korea around Valentine’s Day (or Peppero Day, or Christmas), you know that Korean dating culture is no joke. To help you navigate the world of relationships in Korea, we’ve compiled a list of 10 useful Korean words to describe different aspects of dating and relationships.
금사빠 – geum sah bbah
금방 사랑에 빠지다 / 금방 사랑에 빠지는 사람 (falling in love right away)
Similar to the phrase “love at first sight,” this abbreviated word is used to describe someone who falls in love very easily and quickly, but this phrase is different in a way a person falls in love too quickly and it does not last very long.
품절남/품절녀 – pum jeol nam/pum jeol nyuh (sold out man/woman)
The literal translation is a male or female that is “sold out” and no longer available. This word is used when someone you find charming or popular is getting married or is already married.
모쏠 – mo ssol
모태쏠로 (“solo from birth”)
Someone who was never in a romantic relationship in their entire life.
초식남 – choshiknam (“herbivore man”) / 건어물녀 – gunomullyuh (“dried fish woman”)
Originated from a Japanese word 草食系, this word literally means “herbivore man.” It was initially used to describe men who are more sensitive and gentle/docile like herbivores, but now it is mostly used to describe guys who are not interested in dating or marriage. They would rather spend time and money on their self-improvement, fashion, and hobbies.
There many debatable theories behind why guys become 초식남. Some of the reasons include concerns for lack of personal life/hobbies when in relationships or once married, fatigue from relationships, financial affordability, or they simply just have no interest in dating.
Also originated from a Japanese word, 乾魚物女 from a 2003 comic, “Dried fish woman” is a female version of 초식남. This word refers to women who focus more on their career and have no desire to do anything else after work. Typical characteristics of 건어물녀 include, changing into a comfortable sweatpants/shirts after a long day at work, relaxing, watching TV and being a couch potato at home. They have no interest or desire in socializing (including dating) and would rather stay home alone.
볼매 – bol mae
볼수록 매력있다 (the more you look, more charm)
This abbreviated word is used to describe when someone who has hidden charms. They might not be the most attractive person, but once you get to know them they are more attractive and charming.
돌싱 – dol sing
돌아온 싱글 (returned single)
Someone who has gotten divorced and has “came back” to being single.
밀당 – mil dang
밀고 당기다 (push and pull)
Every relationship needs a little push and pull. In the context of relationships, 밀당often means “playing hard to get.”
썸 – ssum
Taken from the English word “something,” this describes the special something between two people who seem to have feelings for each other but haven’t taken the plunge and started dating.
뇌섹남/뇌섹녀 – nwae saek nam/nwae saek nyeo
뇌가 섹시한 남자/여자 (“sexy brain man/woman”)
Someone who is attractive because of their smarts can be described as a뇌섹남 (male) or뇌섹녀 (female). This means a man or woman whose brain is sexy.
남사친/여사친 – nam sa chin/yeo sa chin
남자 사람 친구/ 여자 사람 친구 (“male/female person friend”)
Literally translated, these two words mean “male person friend” and “female person friend.” You can use this to emphasize that the person is just a friend who happens to be a man or a woman, as opposed to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Sang Kim is the Director of Public Affairs & Intern Coordinator. Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.
Image from 김문규’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons. Graphics by KEI’s Jenna Gibson.