Say Korean words for what they areHere’s an English pop quiz. Can you guess what the following phrases mean? - “Fried Enema” “The Jew’s Ear Juice” “The palace explodes the shrimp ball.” Even if you know the definition of each word, you probably won’t be able to understand what the phrases mean.
These absurd phrases can be found on a menu in a Chinese restaurant. “Fried Enema” is “fried sausage,” and “The Jew’s Ear Juice” is a mushroom drink. “The palace explodes the shrimp ball” is a spicy shrimp dish.
You will encounter these bizarre “Chinglish” translations all over China. While the Chinese government promoted a campaign to correct the Chinglish expressions in preparation for the Shanghai World Expo earlier this year, you will still find these nonsensical phrases being used.
Koreans are in no position to laugh at the Chinese. There are many incorrect translations if you look at restaurant menus in Korea. Handmade noodles are sometimes translated as “knife-cut noodles” and minced raw beef is “six times.”
There is a campaign underway to unify the English translations of Korean food names such as bibimbap and bulgogi, but we still have a long way to go. A few months ago, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries proposed to call makgeolli, the traditional unrefined rice wine, as “Drunken Rice.” The reasoning for the proposal was to improve foreigners’ understanding. However, foreigners in Korea have found it nonsensical. They said that “Drunken Rice” reminds them of a strange type of rice, not an alcoholic beverage.
We can learn from the story of Park Ji-won, who embarrassed himself when he tried to show off his foreign language skills. When the Joseon scholar traveled to China, he saw signs that said Gisangsaeseol at a market. He thought that the phrase, which means “as sharp as frost, as white as snow,” was a compliment to the owner’s honest ethics. He wrote the phrase in beautiful calligraphy and presented it to a pawnshop owner. However, the pawnshop owner did not appreciate the gift because Gisangsaeseol turned out to be an advertisement for noodle shops.
“Konglish” expressions are not limited to restaurant menus. The Korean government has designated 2010 to 2012 as “Visit Korea Years.” However, you can find countless mistranslations on the official Visit Korea Year Web site. Also, the Busan International Fireworks Festival, which has been chosen as one of the top attractions this year, contains incorrect English expressions on its official site. We are inviting foreign tourists to enjoy Korea, but we are embarrassing ourselves with absurd translations. We, too, need to launch a war against Konglish, just as Beijing did with Chinglish in Shanghai. To protect the heritage of the beautiful Korean language, we must make an effort to improve translations.
The columnist is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Shin Ye-ri