English words used differently in Korea - "Melodrama"

I wanted to discuss the word “melodrama” or “melo”. I know they use it in Korean, I hear it, but it’s one of those instances where an English word means something different in Korea than it is originally.

Quoting from gwm808’s English Guidelines:

(…) be mindful of the different usage of certain words such as “schedule” which is very often used when in English we would use “appointment;” – Instead of “I have schedule tomorrow,” sub “I have something scheduled tomorrow” or “I have an appointment tomorrow.” “Grand open” when we would use “Grand opening”, etc. [/QUOTE]

Melodrama (literally “drama with music”, and originally the word for “opera”, still used to designate opera in Italian) in an English-speaking environment means the same as “makjang”. Something with exaggerated and angsty situations of hardship, sacrifice, and grief, full of coincidences and bigger than life characters. Here are some quotations:

In Korea, from what I understand, they use it to mean any romantic story which is not romantic comedy. It may have a sad ending such as the couple parting, such as “Love Rain” or even the main lead dying from a terminal illness, but is still centered on romance not other kind of situations as birth secrets etc. and not necessarily makjang. Am I right?
Here is an interesting Wikipedia article about Korean melodrama

In contrast to Western Melodrama, the concept of suffering is a fundamental component. It is partly captured in the word han, which is a deep-seated feeling of sorrow, bitterness, or despair that originates in oppression or injustice which accumulates over time and remains unexpressed in the heart. It is believed by some to be a distinguishing characteristic of the Korean culture. Another distinguishing characteristic of Korean melodrama is the emphasis on family.[/QUOTE]
There is a Timeline showing how melodrama evolved in Korean history, and at the end it says:

This seems to mean that nowadays, even romantic comedies and action pictures are included in melodramas??? That’s going even further than my understanding of the term!

If this is the case, we shouldn’t use the word “melodrama” or “melo”, although it sounds the same. In most cases, “romantic drama” or “romance drama” would fit the bill.
What are your thoughts?

@ajumma2, @cgwm808, @sophie2you, @gripstar_385, @joysprite

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The definition and origin of 멜로드라마 (melodrama) is the same in Korean as in English.

( warning: links are in Korean)



While the term/definition of “melodrama” evolved over time, it generally encompasses a main lady and her (love) interest and the obstacles surrounding it. The obstacles could be unrealistic and extreme circumstances, such as incurable diseases, unlikely accidents, sudden memory loss, death, physical and/or emotional persecution or suffering. But it could also be just a simple misunderstandings between a man or a woman or it could be a bad timing or any other realistic “push and pull” action while developing a relationship or other maturing process in life.

When I think of the word “melodrama” in English or in Korean, I don’t always associate it as extreme makjang-like drama, although it could be.

Since a romantic dramas is a subset of a melodrama, I’d say it’s okay to leave the word as it is and translate it as “melodrama.” Having said that, if you use “romantic drama” for it, it’s fine, too.


I agree with ajumma2 – when we hear the Korean characters say “melo” it’s fine to sub as Melodrama.