Sunday, July 16, 2006

why wasn't I notified!?

While I generally refrain from using Korean in my English classes, I have no compunctions about using it in my informal Friday French classes. The French class is for absolute beginners, and I'm wary of using English in that class because French and English share similar words as well as the dreaded faux amis, the false cognates (e.g., the French assister and the English to assist). Unfortunately, my Korean is far from perfect, and I made an ass of myself while trying to explain the French expression en retard, which means "late." I made the connection to English words like "tardy" and "retarded," both of which I translated into Korean. I then made the huge mistake of translating "retarded" as byeong-shin, a term I've heard so often that I thought it was simply a normal word. My students heard the word, gasped, then laughed. I asked what was funny, and they told me that byeong-shin was a kind of yok, i.e., a swear word. I laughed, too, and explained that my knowledge of the word came primarily from PC-bahng rats who played StarCraft. I then asked my students what the normal, proper word for a mentally retarded person was, and I got several answers, including jang-ae-u, which is a compound of "handicapped" (jang-ae) and "friend" (from u, the Chinese word for friend). This reminded me of Gandhi's refusal to use the term dalit to describe the "untouchable" outcaste in India. He insisted on referring to them as harijan, the children of God.*

Lessons learned, eh? Let me tell you: public embarrassment is one of the best ways to remember the things you learn about a foreign language. I will never use byeong-shin in public again. Unless I'm playing StarCraft and calling a teammate a fucking retard.

*According to this site, many dalits actually consider harijan a condescending term. Interesting.



  1. An interesting aside regarding caste in India...

    Believe it or not, colleges hold a certain number of vacancies for certain castes; for lower castes to include dalit, there are MORE vacancies afforded (in an EEOC kinda way) to the lower castes than for the higher; Ergo, the competition for those higher-caste vacancies is quite stiff. This is the reason why Indians, stereotypically, are so studious, even from an early age, they work their entire primary education towards the "possibility" they'll be able to go to college. It's not like here in the US where even a mediocre student can get into a junior college (colleges here in the states are just as much of a business as they are pillars of education). It is not uncommon to learn that an Indian student has killed themselves because their grades weren't good enough. I would assume the same goes for Japanese and Chinese students, too.

    Additionally, for those folks who don't know about the structure of caste, initially it was meant as it pertained to temple. For instance a Brahmin (similar to it's Jewish counterpart, Cohen or Levi) are the priestly caste, and as such there are certain things in temple only a Brahmin can do. And this trickles down, each caste has something unique related to it. And by the time you get down to the Dalit... the "Untouchable," comes from (at one point in time) their inability to enter a temple.

    If I were to live in India with my husband, who is Brahmin, our children would be of a significantly lower caste, as I am American. This, however, would ensure ample opportunity for our child, if hypothetically, the child was educated in India and went to college there.

    I'm just sayin'...

  2. I did not know 별심 but I do know 장애자 from the subway. Here is what my Korean friend said about 별심:

    "oh...bad word...ignorant people only use....정말~~ 싫어하는 사람이나 미워하는 사람한테만 할 수 있는말"

    ignorant people......

  3. But I didn't say or write "byeol-shim" (별심이 뭐지?)--
    I wrote "byeong-shin" (병신).

    "정말~~ 싫어하는 사람이나 미워하는 사람한테만 할 수 있는말"

    그러면 PC방 다니는 대학생들이 이런말 많이 쓰니까 저학생들이 ignorant한 사람이라고 말씀 이세요?

    사실 PC방에선 "븅신!"이라고 하는 학생들이 싫어하는 사람한테 말하는것이 아니라 친구한테 그렇게 말하는거예요...

    So I think this expression is used in more than just an "angry" context. It's also used on friends, just like English and French swear words-- they can be used for insults, or they can be used as a joke. So this expression is NOT just used by "ignorant" people. It's a very, very common expression. My mistake was to think it was a "normal" expression, and not a swear word. I was wrong, but I had a good laugh.

    Anyway-- sorry my Korean is so bad. I'm trying to improve.


  4. sorry, I meant "병신"~~ ha ha my Korean is bad too...Anyway, thank you for
    warning us about the dangers of this word.



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