Geupsikchae, the Internet slang unique to Korea’s teen demographic, consists of a variety of wordplay, homophones, rhymes, and abbreviations. The term derives its name from the Korean word geupsik, which means school lunch, as those who use geupsikchae usually are elementary, middle, and high school students who eat meals provided by their schools. This teenage dialect is rapidly spreading beyond cyberspace and classroom doors. On Oct. 14, the popular cable show Saturday Night Live (SNL) Korea broadcasted the first episode of a series of digital shorts on the perplexing language of the Korean youth. Shortly after, clips of the show went viral on social media platforms, with one video even reaching over 229,000 views on Youtube. Word of this phenomenon is now making its way into the news: renowned Korean news outlets like SBS, the Korea Times, and the Dong-A Ilbo have all reported on geupsikchae’s current popularity.
“It’s a new Internet hybrid world, and adults are just catching up,” said Hye Yong Min, Deputy Director of Communication. “Language and culture are always changing. Communication is about what senders and receivers are aware of. We have a whole new generation that has an entirely different method of access to information, and political and cultural awareness is at a whole different level than [my generation] was ever exposed to. Geupsikchae is one of the results [of this Internet era], part of the new SNS language.”
The growing prevalence of such teen slang reflects the widening gap between generations. All of SNL’s geupsikchae episodes open with a boy’s dad hoping to communicate with his child by learning the complicated language that his son and his friends use. To this end, he watches an online lecture by Seol Hyuk-soo, a parody of Seol Min-seok, the famous Korean historian. Like this father, older generations are struggling to understand teen slang. Geupsikchae is full of strange combinations of words that may seem indecipherable to age groups unfamiliar with the Internet linguistics of Korean adolescents. The predominance of teen terminology in students’ everyday conversations, however, makes it difficult to dismiss the slang. According to Joongang Daily columnist Jiyoung Lee, imitating her children’s words allowed her to find common ground within their conversations, ebbing the tension surrounding herself and her children regarding the use of this mode of speech.
Geupsikchae is dominating the language of teenagers, and SIS is no exception. For a short while, SNL’s geupsikchae episodes flooded students’ Facebook feeds, exposing the slang even to those who were unaware of it. Geupsikchae phrases such as ojinda and jirinda, both literally translated to awesome or “dope,” are now commonly heard and used in the hallways and classrooms of SIS.
“Due to its unique nature, geupsikchae engenders communal feelings within teenagers in Korea while creating a sense of belonging,” said Tae Hoon Kim (11), geupsikchae user. “Furthermore, its addictiveness and SNL Korea’s digital shorts have also made contributions to the fad. I personally use geupsikchae, especially when I chat with my closest friends, because it facilitates communication with others, in addition to being humorous. However, it is important to note that imprudent use of geupsikchae could be unpleasant to others who are unfamiliar with it.”
Indeed, the Internet slang of adolescents constitutes a significant part of their community and youth culture. Nevertheless, excessive use may lead to the destruction of proper language. According to Chosun Ilbo, Oh Won-taek, a member of SNL’s production team, revealed that the crash course series on geupsikchae originally intended to satirize how the teen language obscures communication across and within generations. While the increasing pervasiveness of teen speak is an expected product of the rapid development of technology, it is crucial to be mindful of the preservation of the Korean language.