June 26, 2008

Probably because we're from North Korea.


There are a few words we use in our family that my siblings and I cannot seem to find used in any other Korean family. It's weird because for us it was as if we grew up to discover "bop" didn't mean really "rice" or "ppo-ppo" didn't mean "kiss." My theory is that these are regional North Korean words because my grandparents were from the northernmost part of Korea, just south of the Chinese border...

My whole maternal side family says "jji-jji" for "dirty" - not "ji-ji" with the soft "j" sound but double consonant, hard "jj" which to our horror as adults, we learned is actually the common slang term for "boobs". My mom swears it is a normal word, "It mean REALLY dirty. Emphasize. You know, for the kids."

We also used the word "jjoy" for "breasts". Again, hard double consonant "j". When the Joy dish soap commercials first came out, my cousins and I would collapse into a fit of giggles at the refrain, "Just let your Joy show! In the things you do! Just let your Joy show!" ( We also eventually made a dance routine to this song that involved, unfortunately, flashing our chests whenever the word came up while belting out the chorus, a moment only eclipsed by the time we thought it would be cool to give our haraboji a nickname so for one whole Christmas day we ran around screaming "Hey Boji, we love you Boji!" )

("Boji" is the Korean word for "vagina".)

(The adults apparently were too mortified to correct us, as evidenced by the memory of my grandfather's face from that day - a kind of grimace when we thought it was so fun.)

Now besides the fact that our family seems to talk about breasts an awful lot, why would we be the only Korean family to use these words?

posted at 03:22 PM by jenn

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06/26/08 11:40 PM

You might find this article interesting on Korean language purism: http://www.geocities.com/mlovmo/gallery15.html

My grandfather grew up under the Japanese occupation and much to his shame he still uses many Japanese words which he passed on to his kids and now to his grandkids (he went to japanese schools and was even sent to Tokyo to study). The hard part I think is that he has a real love of Japanese language and culture, but can never bring himself to admit it because of what they did to the country. I recently found a diary he keeps in secret in Japanese and I've heard my grandmother talk about a Japanese girl he still pines for. She gets furious when she thinks about it and he gets furious that she brings it up. Sometimes I think his soul is split down the middle.

06/29/08 11:12 PM

In my family we always used the world babo to mean stupid but I have some korean cousins who use the word to mean boyfriend. So when they kept talking about my babo this and that I thought they were talking about a group of stupid guys. Very confusing!

Never called my grandfather Boji though. ;)

07/03/08 12:33 PM

mm. I can imagine your grandpop's face on that day.

07/08/08 02:37 AM

i was not involved in running around screaming that word. i thought it was only paul who said that!

08/12/08 05:41 PM

both my parents are N. Korean in origin as well and I know my mom & her sisters use slang and dialect that is particular to NK (although they were all born in Shanghai due to the Japanese occupation). Anyway, I don't know enough Korean to misspeak it, but I was laughed at when I went to Seoul to learn Korean once summer. I said one of the only words I knew-- eepooda. Apparently that is a NK pronunciation. The correct word is yeh-pooda.

01/08/09 03:43 PM

Hi there! What a great blog! I love reading it. This is the first time I've responded, though. So I'll do a brief intro - my name is Alicia, I'm 35 and live in TX with my family. Our youngest child, Nate, was born in Changwon City. We adopted him from Korea in 2003 and have tried to bring some bits of Korean culture into our family so when he's older he'll have some knowledge of his heritage and maybe won't feel as awkward around other "Korean Koreans". ;o) Of course, whether we succeed or not remains to be seen. We have LOVED learning about Korea and have a special fondness for Korean food, so we do eat lots of kimchi and bop!
I was just cracking up about your "Bogi" fiasco! I called my grandpa a "Dildo" one time because he was being goofy and I could have sweared I'd heard the word used in that way before. Of course, I was mortified when my more worldly cousin enlightened me of the true meaning of the word. So....I can totally identify with you on that one!
We also picked up the term "jji-jji" when we were in Korea picking up our son. It sounded more like "shi-shi" when his foster mother said it. Now I know what ELSE I can use the term for! :)

Thanks so much for your blog!

08/02/11 05:52 PM

I'm a Hawaii-born Japanese-American who taught English at a public junior high school in Korea for 2 years. My wife is from the extreme southwest area of Korea (Chulla do). Anyway, the word jji jji (dirty) is a common word that adults use when talking to young kids; the regular word is turupta.
Incidentally, the phrase chi-chi is what Japanese say for boobs and can also mean mother's milk. The Korean equivalent phrase = chut.
The proper (medical) term for breasts in Korean (taken from Chinese) = yoobang.

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