[FOUNTAIN]Watch your tongue

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[FOUNTAIN]Watch your tongue

The special vocabulary used among members of a special group, and that is not understood by people outside the group is called jargon or cant. This is a "group language" and is used by the group for its ease of communication.

People associate cant with the language of thieves or prostitutes. But the language peculiar to simmani, which means "ginseng-digger," and the special vocabulary of the people in the royal court was jargon. In times past and present, students are mass producers of jargon.

The word "cant" comes from the French, and originally meant the vocabulary that criminals used in order to prevent other people from understanding their conversation.

Cant has existed in all ages and in all places, and its creation will continue to exist.

The constables in the Joseon Dynasty of Korea also used a secret vocabulary. Among their cant, uki meant son, sueosari meant father and tuieosari meant mother. In the recent Korean film "My Wife is a Gangster," the heroine uses the cant of criminal syndicates, such as jjapsae, which means a policeman.

Because cant has vivid realism and gives a sense of defiance in society's mainstream, writers, especially realistic novelists, enjoy using it. A Korean novelist, Hawng Seok-yeong, uses vulgar cant in his novels, such as "Slender Hands" and "Children of the Dark," to good effect.

But it is embarrassing when anybody imitates such novelists. Roh Moo-hyun, the presidential nominee of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, used the word kkaengpan at a rally a few days ago. The word originates from kkaengpannolda, which means "disturb" or "frustrate." The word is originally a type of cant that has been used between groups of thieves, purse-snatchers, ruffians and gangsters. Some insist that the prefix, kkang, came from the English word "gang." Kkaengpan is also used as a type of cant between gamblers, according to the Korean Cant Dictionary.

Such vulgar cant is not suitable for a person who wants to be president. With the intention of helping Mr. Roh, some aides close to him are telling critics, "You are just eager to find fault with him and cannot see the forest for the trees." Or, "It was just his style of frankly expressing himself." It is absurd to say that about Mr. Roh's slip of the tongue. There could have been some voters who came to the rally with their children. And many people, including teenagers, could have heard Mr. Roh's words on television. Mr. Roh should apologize and make an effort not to repeat such a mistake.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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