Korean dating has evolved over the years, and along with it, the vocabulary to describe the complexities and variations of modern courtship.
It used to be that one met a potential spouse through seon, or a formal blind date arranged by elderly members of the family. According to Lim Sun-young at Sunoo, one of the forerunners of the matchmaking service business, seon is an age-old tradition.
In fact, many elderly couples today met through seon. An unofficial poll of her friends by Song Hee-jung, a JoongAng Daily intern, finds that many couples in their 50s and up from the provinces are in arranged marriages, or what is called jungmae gyeolhon. In contrast, generally couples in their 50s and up from Seoul married for love, yeonae gyeolhon.
As dating became less and less formal, the “-ting” ending was used to describe these new styles of courtship.
The dating format began changing in the 1970s, with university students who felt stifled by the old ways and wanted something less formal. There was no suitable Korean word to describe the new social scene, so they called this casual dating “meeting.” Basically, a “meeting” in Korean referred to a casual group date among college students.
In coffee shops near universities, group dates could be easily spotted in the evenings or weekends. Rows of young women and men sat face-to-face over a drink and chose a partner.
Such “meetings” thrived among college students. The proximity of Ewha Womans University to Yonsei University helped drive the dating revolution in an otherwise conservative society.
“Everyone in one major at Ewha would go on a group ‘meeting’ with everyone in another major at Yonsei,” says O Mi-kyung of Duo, a matchmaking service that opened in 1995.
Ms. Lim, who graduated in 2002, says that when she was in college, “meeting” involved four girls and four guys. “You have to go to a meeting during your college years. It’s part of the college culture,” she says.
To this day, going on a “meeting” is a rite of passage for all young adults, and not just university students. But for some, group dates started to get old.
As a result, sogaeting, or a one-on-one blind date set up by friends, began growing in popularity. Sogaeting and regular “meeting” were, and still are, much more casual and popular than seon.
But there were some drawbacks. Without seon, which meant your family checked out the other party before the date, it was much harder to know whether a partner was trustworthy.
Then people turned to a professional go-between, dubbed “Madame Ddu,” who claimed to have a list of the more eligible marriage partners. If the match was a success, the Madame Ddus were rewarded handsomely.
At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, matchmaking companies developed around these Madame Ddus. The Korean economy was taking off, and people from the provinces with new money were looking to meet people from the city, while wealthy families were looking for successful matches.
For an annual fee of 800,000 won ($676) or more, the matchmaking companies offered clients opportunities to meet people they would otherwise not meet.
Sunoo launched in 1991, based on the trust system. The company would screen clients, asking for birth, property and job certificates.
Whether matchmaking companies make dating any easier is debatable.
Yim Kyung-bin, 33, who is now looking for a wife, is a member of Sunoo.
“It’s hard to meet the right woman since they all want to get their money’s worth. Nobody settles down and everybody has high expectation,” he says.
The late 1990s were a boom time for matchmaking businesses. It was also the advent of the Internet age, so it was only natural that online dating services would develop, such as Match.com, which has a mirror site in Korean and boasts 9 million members around the world.
Seong-euk O’Hare was one of them. “After looking at a profile of a really hot girl, I signed up for a one-month membership,” he says. Although reliability is not as high as off-line matchmaking companies, he says online dating is more casual and less demanding.
Today, there are countless dating options and an ever-flexible lexicon to describe them (see list at right). But one thing remains a constant: terms that end with “-ting.”
Korean Dating Terminology
“Bang” means “room” in Korean. Takes place in condominiums in resort areas. Dial random room numbers and arrange for a group date.
Made popular since the mid-1990’s when the use of Internet chatting spread. A man and a woman arrange a date in a chatting room and meet later in real life.
Dating through the Internet.
Last-minute backup member for a group date.
People who are narcissists. Derived from the word dokki, or ax, because they think they’re constantly being hit on.
A person with an attractive face. Jjang is a slang derived from jang, which means “the chief.”
A person with an unattractive face. Kkwang means whammy.
A princess syndrome. A woman who expects a man to treat her as if she were a princess.
An atomic bomb (look under poktan). A total mood killer.
The act of looking for a date. Often, this involves walking or driving through streets packed with young people, and then chatting up an interesting person. Rodeo Drive in Apgujeong-dong is a famous “hunting” ground.
The process of matchmaking, or literally, “working on someone.” “Jageopjung” is a guy’s term for “working on a girl.”
An old-fashioned term for arranged dates.
A casual group date. Often the same number of males and females get together.
A person with a pleasing physique.
A person with a terrible figure.
Usually takes place in nightclubs as a form of entertainment. Men are lined up in a mock auction. A winner claims ownership of the man for the day.
Flirtation over the phone in search of a potential date.
The American slang “bomb” refers to a hot woman, but in Korean, poktan, or bomb, refers to an unattractive person.
A guy who is responsible for getting rid of the poktan (see previous entry).
Derived from the Korean word “sagi,” or “to slander.” When dates lie about their personal information, such as age or background.
A formal date arranged by friends, relatives or marriage brokers for people who are serious about getting married. Sometimes money is exchanged.
A casual way of meeting a potential spouse without the presence of matchmakers.
A blind date arranged by friends or relatives.
The word means “an athlete,” but in Korean dating lingo, it refers to an “expert” in dating.
A type of poktan (see entry on poktan). Literally, “hand grenade.”
Looking at each other’s image while chatting online.
Literally, “prince syndrome.” A man who expects a woman to treat him as if he were a prince.
The Korean word for “fox,” which refers to a sly or catty woman. An extremely manipulative woman is called bulyeo-u, or a fearsome fox.
by Joe Yong-hee, Ines Cho
Kim Soo-young contributed to this story.