Living in Seoul, Korea: Elders - (Pg 20)

Senior (and Seniors in Korean Society)

he single most confusing Konglish expression that I heard has to be the word ‘Senior’. The expression is extremely popular in Konglish, but it has no exact translation into English. I learned that age is very important in Korean society, with anyone who is older being ones senior. I learned that even if you are only twenty-two and your friend is twenty-three, one would still talk in terms of seniors. It is not restricted to talking about the elderly as one Korean education and gamesmight think in English, with words such as 'senior citizen' meaning someone older than sixty-five. In Korean 'senior' means someone who is older than you. The same word is used regardless of whether the person is your boss, co-worker, friend, alumni, or friend’s friend.

The word 'senior' is often used to show respect in many situations and students have often asked me how they can express this meaning in English. Koreans for example, may want to say, “I am meeting my senior later for a coffee”. In English, people would usually say who the person is. It may for example be 'my boss', or 'my supervisor' or 'someone who went to my school', rather than senior. The better sentence in English would be “I am meeting my boss for a coffee”, or, “I am meeting my friend for a coffee”. In English, if this friend is older or younger, it is not important. If you really want to express the age also in English, then you could say, “I am meeting my older friend for a coffee”. This would though, sound a little strange in English due to the lack of need for age to be stated.

Modified Meanings

In Konglish there are many other expressions where the meaning has been changed to reflect the Korean culture. A good example of this is the word ‘puppy’. In Seoul, a city where space is precious, small dogs are very popular and are far more common as pets compared to large dogs. This in turn is reflected in the expression ‘puppy’, which generally means ‘small dog’ in Konglish, rather than ‘young (baby) dog’ in English. In Konglish for example, if talking about a Chiwawa, even if the dog is four or five dog years old (multiple by seven for human equivalent age), the dog is still considered to be a puppy because it is small in size.

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