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Tough Guy, Eh? Show Your Grit with These Korean Expressions (#15)











The following expressions are considered “fighting words” and shouldn’t be used lightly.




Tough Guy, Eh?

Korea is a relatively safe country. There is not a lot of physical violence, but there does tend to be a good deal of aggressive talk. It’s not uncommon to see people yelling and spitting words at one another in the streets, but this aggressive language rarely turns into violence (at least not in public). Koreans talk tough and have fiery tempers, but when they fight, it’s usually just with their words.

From the pictures above:

  1. The Matrix one (니죽고내죽고) was the most popular this week on our Tumblr feed.
  2. The reclining chimpanzee (배째라!) was the most popular among my Korean college students.
  3. Google searching 묵살 turned up TONS of images for the Sewol ferry (so it’s not my idea initially).
  4. Google searching 뇌살 turned up TONS of images of beautiful people (mostly women, but some men as well).

In my experience (driving)

What do you think? Ever had some aggressive words spit toward you?

#1: The aggressive taxi driver who’s stuck behind a “beginner” (초보운전)

It’s happened to me once or twice while driving – usually an aggressive taxi driver rolls down his window and screams at a car he passes who either had previously cut him off, or was driving too slowly for his tastes and blocking his passage.

#2: The aggressive taxi driver who illegally cuts off an equally aggressive driver (me)

There was one time when I was driving (and I drive rather aggressively too) down a two lane road when a taxi driver behind me drove into oncoming traffic to pass me and sharply cut me off. I was angry so I laid down on the horn. Then he pulled his emergency brake and stopped in the middle of traffic, got out of his taxi to scream and wave his finger at me. Then, I guess he must have noticed the police car right behind me because he quickly got back in his car and took off.

#3: A guy leaving work trying to get the jump on me at a traffic light who I leave in the dust

Then there was another time when I was at the front of the pack waiting for a green light. When it switched, I took off and the black truck next to me honked loudly. “What’s his deal?” I wondered. Then I noticed that he immediately switched lanes to get behind my car. “Hmm, must have been trying to get the jump on me and cut me off,” I thought. I drove (quite quickly – as usual) down the road and he tailgated me the whole way.

At the following red light, he got out of his truck, walked up to my window and knocked aggressively. I rolled it down (doors locked) and he said, “뭐하는거야!” I repeated the phrase back to him – trying to sound just as aggressive (though actually quite nervous). He must have noticed I was a foreigner then and he hopped back in his truck – then tailgated me closely all the way to my neighborhood. I finally slowed way down, then stayed at a full stop at one red light after it turned green when he finally passed me.

Wow. I’ve also seen aggressive language used outside bars and clubs.

Do you have any experience witnessing or receiving such aggressive language?

#4: Self-defense can even get you in trouble

Don’t you be the one to throw the first punch. And also be cautious if merely defending yourself.

One of my foreign friends stepped in to break up a fight, then found himself blocking the punches of three dudes who later walked away from the fight unharmed. About a month, later found himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the three of them for hospital stays and time off work. (The whole thing was a big scam – the hospital they went to was filled with men just trying to make a quick buck in a similar manner.) He eventually got through the lawsuit with no ill effects. But this should stand as a warning to all of us expats in Korea:

This isn’t our country – we can’t game the system – but there are some Koreans who’d try to play it against us.

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