Dictionaries are the definition of sexismLet me be blunt here. Korean-English dictionaries are the axis of evil when it comes to equality between the sexes.
It’s not as if our country’s dictionaries pose some awful danger to our security. True to the reputation of a country that loves ― some say obsesses ― over this foreign tongue, Korea has a fine, healthy selection of Korean-English dictionaries. With several hundred pages of word definitions backed by an abundance of sample sentences, these tomes serve as good study aides for learning the language, as well as excellent references.
Students have responded well, a few even believing that literally eating a few pages of a book could implant the consumed words in their minds forever. No, the problem lies with the sample sentences.
Consider these examples from one of the most popular online dictionaries on the market. Look up the Korean word botong, meaning “normal” or “usual” and you’ll get the sample sentence, “Something must be the matter with the woman, seeing that she is not yet married at that age.” First of all, I don’t see any relation between the word “normal” and being single. Plus, what’s the connotation behind the phrase “at that age?”
And this is just the beginning. When I looked up yeoja, meaning “woman,” you could see steam coming out of my nostrils. Besides Shakespeare’s “Frailty, thy name is woman,” there are “Behind crime, there’s a woman in it” and “Almost all the universities are open to women.” Hello? This is the 21st century.
So I tried a bunch of other words such as heunhada, or “common,” and voila, you got “If there’s one thing we have enough of, it’s women.” For geop, or “fear,” we have “Women are much too frightened to go outside.” Under gyeolhon, or “marriage,” there’s “Her marriage to a foreigner was not welcomed by her family.”
I kept plowing forward in my hunt, only to find “Don’t let on to any of the female staff that I’m getting married” under “woman,” which seems more apropos for such words as “Casanova.” As for namja, or “man,” we have “You should be man enough not to do a thing like that.”
I suggest establishing a Committee for True Equality in Dictionaries, maybe with Gloria Steinem as its president. Though I adore men too much to be a die-hard feminist, when I have children I don’t want my sons to absorb these ideas along with their English lessons. As one such student who treated her dictionary like a Bible, it’s a miracle that I’m not a male chauvinist.
by Chun Su-jin