The curse of swear words
Jin Ok-seob, 48, the artistic director of the Korea Culture House, is known for being glib. In May of 1998, when he was still in his 30s, Jin went to Gangneung, Gangwon District to participate in the Dano festival. He had to be a part of the festival as he was so passionate about traditional culture. After a few days, he ran out of money and could not even buy a ticket back to Seoul. Just in time, he found out that the Dano Festival was holding the first nationwide vulgar stories contest. The Asian Folklore Association was sponsoring the contest to collect orally transmitted literature. Those who were over 60 could enter the contest, but he begged the event organizers to make an exception. He won the prize money of 100,000 won ($88) and could come back to Seoul comfortably.
The culture of profanity is especially developed in Korea. The slang dictionaries contain surprisingly obscene and humorous expressions of our ancestors. Many contain discriminatory and derogatory connotations against the weak that should not be used today. However, the tradition remains, and modern Koreans are still talented in coining new curse words. Some curses are so genius and clever, thanks to the variety of topics and creative comparisons. One of the superiors in my unit during military service used particularly humorous swear words.
However, the ancestors know when and where to use the foul language. They did not curse in public or at elders. It may as well be the first period in Korean history where people, regardless of their age, gush out swear words in various channels, including Twitter and podcasts. Many of us have seen young girls on the street using harsh and foul language nonchalantly. Min Hyun-sik, the director of the National Institute of the Korean Language, deplored the culture of profanity among the youth.
Many people cannot carry on a decent conversation without using swearwords, and cursing begins at an early age. Foul language is used universally, regardless of gender and age, and people learn new curses from the Internet. They tend to enjoy using abusive language, and some curses are derogatory and hostile. They often target teachers and parents. Profanity is becoming politically inspired, and sometimes using foul language leads to self-deprecation, depression and pessimism.
The key to profanity is scarcity. According to Jin Ok-seob, curses are mainly made up of anger and humor. Curses inspired by anger are the terse, sarcastic remarks often targeted at those in power. The humor-infused swearwords make you laugh. But when used in every sentence, profanity is nothing but habitual verbal violence.
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo
By Noh Jae-hyun