Bonk! A whomp on the head for poor speakers of Korean

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Bonk! A whomp on the head for poor speakers of Korean

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She cocks her ear to a male comedian who keeps whispering something to her while on-air, but Noh Hyeon-jeong doesn’t care about his jokes. She wants to know if he’s using the right Korean word.
That’s her job on the show, and that’s how she gained her stardom to a level equivalent to a top celebrity these days. Her calm demeanor on stage and her meticulous habit of correcting entertainers’ language (though it must have be part of an act that has been emphasized for the show) even recently won her the position of an “ambassador” of the National Institute of Korean Language.
Noh, 28, may be a mere television celebrity host, but her attention to langauge has turned her into a forceful advocate of using proper Korean grammer and original Korean words.
Last week, she sat down in front of some 30 government officials, all professional writers or linguists wearing black suits, to talk about the importance of using the right Korean expressions. Some of the listeners at her lecture that day included Kim Myung-gon, the Culture and Tourism Minister, Lee Sang-gyu, the head of the National Institute of Korean Language, and speechwriters from various government organizations.
“When I’m with friends my age, I also use slang and jargon in my speech,” she carefully enunciated. “After I started emceeing the television program, however, I stopped doing that.” She was afraid that people would start gossiping that “even announcer Noh Hyeon-jeong” uses such and such words, she explained.
Her speech to the officials was actually closer to a testimonial than an academic lecture ― she talked about how she fell in love with the Korean language. She was also very careful about giving Korean advice to the participants.
“I didn’t say that I found them using incorrect figures of speech,” she said rather defensively after the brief lecture at the Culture Ministry. She kept a tight smile. “I wanted to remind them, for example, that instead of using difficult Chinese characters on documents, we should try to use pure Korean words, which are easier.”
She gave a poised nod to the reporters and she walked off briskly into the elevator, where her crew was waiting. She was in a hurry to get back to the office.
Noh’s popularity soared after she took the only female role on a weekly KBS entertainment show, “Sang Sang Plus.” Her role had been simple at first: She sat quietly in the middle of a panel of loud comedians who would try to guess the Korean vocabulary word the announcer read out. But the series of hints she gave were not from the dictionary but from the wacky, wild guesses the teenagers made after hearing the Korean word, apparently for the first time.
On one show, Noh said, “Out of the 1,000 teenagers we asked, 914 did not know this word. Younger people thought it meant ‘to flirt,’ or was an old word for ‘menstrual period’ or a term for a wrestling technique.”
For about 20 minutes, the panel of comedians tilt their heads, make jokes at each other and occasionally toss out clever guesses. When one was ready to answer, the comedian would tip-toe over to the announcer, who sat solemn-faced and composed. He would whisper his answer to her, and she would have to swallow her giggles. Then she would bonk the man with a plastic cone speaker next to her and add playfully, “Study, will you?”
Noh’s articulate yet feminine way of speech and manner soon caught on, and what was originally a section of the show has now been extended to fill a full hour. She was recently invited to appear on a KBS sitcom and is currently in the running to be the station’s “entertainer of the month,” as selected in a poll by Internet users. Her popularity is even more surprising considering that she once lost her job as a news anchor for KBS after the police caught her drinking and driving.
“Over 40 reporters are asking for interviews,” Pyo Yeong-jun, her desk chief, said over the telephone. “It’s driving me nuts.” He so far has refused most of the requests.
By the way, the answer to the word 914 teenagers did not know was “jujeonburi,” meaning snack.


by Lee Min-a
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