English? Konglish? Purists concede to 'fighting' cheer
It was 27 minutes after midnight on Friday. "Midnight TV Entertainment," a live entertainment news show, was on the air at the Seoul Broadcasting System. A reporter was interviewing Lim Chang-jung, a 29-year-old actor and singer. The reporter, wrapping up the interview, asked him to express his sentiments about the Korean national soccer team. "I love you, Korean team!" Mr. Lim shouted at the camera. "Korean players fighting!"
At the basement floor of Samsung Plaza, an office building in downtown Seoul, a four-by-four meter banner reads, "Korea Fighting!" with an announcement that the food court will have a draft beer festival to celebrate the 2002 World Cup.
Hanging outside of the Shinsegae Department Store building in Seocho, southern Seoul, are large banners on two sides of the building sporting "Korea Fighting!" in thick black letters against a red background.
At Freechal, an online community Web site, beside advertisements for "Be the Reds!" T-shirts, is emblazoned, "Korean soccer fighting!"
On the Wizwid Web site, an international shopping site, is "Korea Fighting!" this time in English.
In the Jan. 18 edition of the Korean-language JoongAng Ilbo, a sports article about the golfer Kim Mi-hyun was headlined, "Kim Mi-hyun, taking lessons, 'fighting!'"
Fighting is everywhere here, and permeates the Korean presence on the Internet. But what on earth does that English-looking word mean?
"It did not make any sense," said Rafal Grzyb, a Canadian of Polish heritage. "I was like, fighting for what?" Mr. Grzyb, 24, a college graduate who is here for the World Cup and to see his older brother, was referring to "Korea Team Fighting," the rallying cry that was emboldened in a large banner that hung in the seats at the Busan stadium June 4.
Mr. Grzyb, who said he will be at the Poland-Portugal match on Monday, watched the Korea-Poland match on television. He spotted the banner in the sea of red T-shirts of the Korean fans. "It sounded awkward, and there was a sense of violence," Mr. Grzyb said.
But the phrase means something to KTF, the second largest cell-phone carrier in Korea. "Korea Team Fighting" was coined by the firm to capitalize on the tie-in with its name. The company has heavily promoted that slogan nationwide. The banner that Mr. Grzyb saw was made by the 2,000-member cheering squad the company organized.
"It is meaningless to be picky about whether the slogan is grammatically wrong or right," said Lee Young-bae, a KTF official. "The word 'fighting' connotes power, effort, the will to fight and competition, which is suitable for our campaign. 'Good fight' and 'fighting spirit' are also common English expressions."
Mr. Lee stressed that "fighting" is a foreign word that has already been well adopted by Koreans. "Language changes ceaselessly. The word 'fighting' has been used for decades," he said.
That is correct. Koreans have used "fighting" on so many occasions when they cheer someone who faces a challenge, including athletes, that the word has entered the Korean vocabulary.
"It was about 15 years ago that I first heard that expression," said Steven Capener, an American who lectures at Ewha Womans University Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation. "I was in the World Taekwondo University Championships in Berkeley, California." Korean athletes there, Mr. Capener said, chanted "fighting!" to cheer for their players. "Actually, one of our team players went to the Korean side to ask what they are shouting. It turned out to be English."
His first reaction was, why English? "After living 13 years in Korea, now I understand the obsession of Koreans with English," Mr. Capener said.
So, did Mr. Capener see that "Korea Team Fighting" banner in the stands at the Busan stadium? "Yes, I saw it on television," he said. "And I can say for sure that the slogan must have sounded awkward and aggressive to English native speakers."
Ahn Jung-hyo is a veteran English-Korean translator and author. He agrees.
"That is the culmination of ignorance," said Mr. Ahn, who wrote a "False English Dictionary" that wittily and sarcastically treats more than 900 common mistakes Koreans make when they try to employ English words. "If the company tries to carry that false English to other countries, it will be an international shame," he said.
Mr. Ahn guessed the word "fighting" came from the term "fighting spirit," but as Konglish usually goes, long or hard-to-pronounce words disappeared along the way.
Mr. Capener suggested that Koreans replace "fighting" with Korean words. "But I think it is too late," he said. "Koreans are too accustomed to the Konglish term. Frankly, so am I."