Word play in K-dramas

I’ve been a bit busy lately and didn’t keep up here, but now I can post a few of the slang and puns from the latest episodes of Love Revolution all at once (which might be better than one by one maybe?):

Category slang:

  • 개찐따 (gaejjindda) = total loser
  • 생일빵 (saengilppang) = birthday hit/punch. It’s given as a gift somehow. I think I saw somewhere that it could be for getting rid of bad spirits or bad luck. (I actually discovered that there are several variations of birthday punches across cultures around the world.)
  • 의문의 1패 (uimunui ilpae) = literally “mysterious defeat”, “suspicious/questionnable loss”. It is a humorous phrase used in a particular situation: when someone gets unexpectedly and indirectly put down with a comment that wasn’t directly meant for them.
    For example: Friends A, B and C are chatting together, and A tells B “You can eat spicy food? You’re perfect! Only the weak can’t eat that.” But C can’t eat spicy food actually, though person A didn’t know that. So C could feel insulted or devaluated even though it wasn’t person A’s intention. So “의문의 1패 (uimunui ilpae)” would apply to person C here.
  • 흑역사 (heukyeoksa) = literally “dark history”: it is used to talk about some embarrassing thing that happened to you in the past and that still haunts you.
  • 마상 (ma-sang) = 음의 처 (maeumui sangcheo) = getting your feelings hurt.

Category wordplays, puns etc. :

  • Wordplay with a rebus (episode 8 at around 8 minutes in): :sunflower::sunny: 하자. Explanation: flower is 화 (hwa) and sun is 해 (hae), which put together means “reconciliation”, “to make up” (hwahaehaja).

In episode 8 there’s also an extensive word play around swear words (they insult each other but the teacher shows up and they stop themselves from swearing and change the words to similar-sounding ones):

  • with 씨발 and 신발: “씨-씨- 신발” (“ssi-ssi-sinbal”), literally “Fu-Fu- Shoes” (I used “foot” instead because he shows his foot/shoe). He corrects himself by saying “What do you think about my shoes?”
  • and then she was going to reply 좆같은 씨발 (jotgateun ssibal, which could be translated to “they look f****g shitty”), but corrects herself when she sees the teacher as well and says 조카… 신발같네 (joka sinbal). I put “They look like flocked shoes” (as in the velvety fabric, or the cotton or woolen fiber) because I had to make that work, but I’m not sure the word “flocked” is used much haha…

Many other puns in episodes 9 to 15 as well:

  • 손놈들 (sonnomdul) is a pun on 손님들 (sonnimdul): the latter, 손님 (sonnim), means “customer” but here they swapped a letter for another, which gives 놈 (nom, derogatory particle usually translated to “jerk” or “punk” or harsher words) instead of 님 (nim, particle indicating deference). For context: the guy’s friends came to bother him by visiting the cafe he works at. (I didn’t figure out how to translate this pun, though.)

  • Pun with 생크림 (saengkurim/saeng cream):
    The dialogue goes like this:
    – 크림 파스타에 들어가는 크림, 생크림인가요? = Are the cream pasta made with saeng cream (heavy cream)?
    – 네. = Yes.
    – 너무 잔인하네요. 죽은 크림으로 해주세요. = It’s too cruel, give me dead cream instead."
    Explanation: The pun was that 생크림 (saeng cream) —which means both heavy cream (whipping cream for sauce) and whipped cream as in Chantilly cream— could literally translate to “alive cream”, which is why he says it’s too cruel and he wants dead cream instead (the pun in Korean flowed so well I actually laughed). The difficult part here was that it was a sauce for pasta, so it couldn’t be saeng cream as in “whipped cream” but as in “heavy/whipping cream”. It would have been easier if it were “whipped cream” because the pun translation into English would have gone seamlessly, but in pasta it just doesn’t make sense to put whipped cream.

  • 현미 (hyeonmi = brown rice) and 현미경 (hyeonmigyeong = microscope). The joke in Korean goes:
    – “현미 중에서 시력이 제일 좋은 현미가 뭐게? = Which brown rice (hyeonmi) has the best eyesight?
    – 현미경. = The microscope (hyeonmigyeong).”
    The best way to translate this one was with mic (‘which mic has the best eyesight?’) and microscope.

  • 지디 (jidi, GD the singer G-Dragon’s nickname) and 디지 (diji) from the slang for “to die” (i.e. kick the bucket, bite the dust): 뒤지다 (dwijida, sometimes pronounced dijida 디지다, like in our case here).
    The Korean wordplay goes:
    – “지디가 물구나무 서기 하면 안 되는 이유가 뭐게? = What’s the reason why GD shouldn’t do a headstand?
    – 디지니까. = Because he’ll die.”
    Explanation: 디지 is pronounced dee-jee (diji), so like ‘GD’ backwards, DG. I don’t know how to make this joke easy to understand, because it takes on two more levels of pun when you try to explain it in English… Basically, ‘GD’ backwards (or upside-down), would be ‘DG’, which sounds like the slang for “to die”, so GD (G-Dragon, the singer) shouldn’t do a headstand otherwise he’ll become DG, so he’ll die. (In the subs I went with “Dead Guy” for DG.)

  • 좌 (jwa = left direction) and 절 (jeol = a bow (as in bowing :bowing_man:, not the :bow_and_arrow:)) - and the word 좌절 (jwajeol = setback/breakdown/downfall or frustration/despair).
    The Korean goes:
    – “왼쪽으로 절하면 뭐게? = What do you get if you bow on the left side?
    – 좌절. = A setback/downfall/despair.”
    Explanation: When you put the words for “left” (jwa) and “bow” (jeol) together it makes jwajeol which means a downfall or despair. (For this one I went with downfall and tweaked it a bit while trying to keep close to the original: “What is it when you fall down on the left side? A downfall.” It’s still a bit weird but understandable as a pun.)

  • “옷도 빼놓고 정신도 빼놨다” kind of means: “He forgot his clothes and lost his mind.” But the joke lies in that the verb 빼다 (ppaeda, “take out/subtract/remove”) is used in both instances.
    Explanation: The sentence is like “He ____ clothes and ____ his mind”, with _____ being the same word in both parts. (옷을) 빼놓다 (ot ppaenohda) means to forget to put on some clothes or to be dressed in a strange/disconcerting way, and 정신을 빼놓다 (jeonsin ppaenohda) means to lose your mind, in a way. 빼놓다 ppaenohda means he left something behind, in this case his sportswear and his mind together with it.
    Also, 옷을 빼입다 (ot ppaeipda, using a different variation of the verb 빼다: with 입다 which means to put on clothes) means to dress up in a neat attire, like a hanbok or a suit. But that has nothing to do with this one pun here, unless you think the shirt he wore looks fancy (maybe that was the case? no idea). Thanks to ajumma2 for the help on this one!


There was also a twist on an idiom in one episode: The title said “가는 말이 고우면 얕본다”, which is a play on the saying “가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다” = literally “the words leaving should be kind for the words coming to be kind” = One should talk/treat people kindly in order to be nicely talked to/treated (or “Talk kindly to others and others will talk kindly to you”). The sentence used in the episode starts the same way, but twists after the first two words and actually literally says “If the words leaving are kind, you get looked down upon”. (So I put “Talk kindly to others and you’ll get looked down upon.”)

I actually have a few idoms and proverbs, and phrases in hanja too but I’m not sure they fit in this topic. Would you like me to share them as well?

Idioms are usually okay but proverbs in hanja are always difficult to translate because in general in Korean they aren’t understandable in a straightforward way, so there’s always added explanation or a character who doesn’t understand, but when you translate it in English it’s straightforward and there’'s no reason for someone not to get it. Viewers might be confused as to why the character doesn’t understand the sentence, so I usually look up synonyms that are dated and try to make the phrase hard to understand at first listen, so that it makes sense to have an explanation coming after.


Hi Emily,

옷을 빼입다 means S/he is dressed up, which is not the same as 옷을 빼놓다. Without having watching that particular scene, when I hear 옷도 빼놓고, it means they either left out or forgot a piece of clothing or something is amiss with the way s/he is dressed.

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Ooooh you’re right! I got confused between the two, because I had heard wrong the first time (옷을 빼입다) and when I read the right sentence in the Korean script (with 옷을 빼놓다), I forgot to look back at whether it translated the same or not. (Now I realize that what he meant was either that his friend forgot to put on his sportswear or that the shirt he is wearing is too ugly.)
Thank you so much! (I’ll modify the examples above too)

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Thanks @emilyazel! I was just thinking about bumping up this thread for @angelight313_168. You are so very organized and thorough with your explanations. It’s great that you keep all these in your notes. This thread is my notebook. Lol.

I think we can expand this thread to include words borrowed from other languages. It will prompt both of us to do more research. On that note…

모태솔로 (mo-tae-solo) or 모솔 (mo-sol), appearing in Zombie Detective, Episode 12, is a combination of
Chinese “母胎 (from mother’s womb)”, and English “solo”. It loosely translates to “solo since birth”.

피켓팅 (pee-keting), appearing in More Than Friends, Episode 12, is a combination of
“피” (Korean word for “blood”), and English “ticketing”. It is used to describe how “bloody” fierce the competition to secure a particular concert or show ticket is.


You are welcome. BTW, your Korean is excellent! Keep up the great work!

In order to understand jokes, you have to know the culture as well as puns other factors that make up the joke. It’s one thing to try to explain the joke, but trying to succinctly translate and capture the essence of the joke without a lengthy explanation is almost impossible.


It’s amazing the work you guys have to go through just to make Korean translation make sense. I compare it to the bible that everything is a symbolism, and only when I studied Theology (the study of the nature of God and religious belief) it was then when I finally understood the Bible.

I wouldn’t be able to put two and two together like you do but of course it helps that you know Korean and English almost to perfection. Although you compliment others, You are #1 in my book.

피켓팅 (pee-keting), appearing in More Than Friends, Episode 12, is a combination of
“피” (Korean word for “blood”), and English “ticketing”. It is used to describe how “bloody” fierce the competition to secure a particular concert or show ticket is.

One thing I did learned blood, rain and Is disgusting (i don’t like it) sound exactly the same to me. So depending on the scene I know what they’re talking about.


In Italy the police (arma dei carabinieri) are a branch of the military. So they do have more or less the same sort of ranks.


격세지감 is a four character saying. I’ve always admired subbers who could recognize them and translate them so they were meaningful in the context of the drama. Back in 2014 I vowed to learn several but never did – but I did save a list. Here is a list of 100 of them: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xxF42qBhZ2USWXM2nNvYvIrNI5-6yVBY/view?usp=sharing
If you enjoy four character idioms, a drama with lots of them is The Salaryman


@angelight313_168, yes, 피 (blood) and 비 (rain) do sound similar. You reminded me of a funny scene in ZD. This was an exchange between Seonji and her sister Seonyoung.

SJ: Do you know who I saw last night?
SY: Who did you see?
SJ: A zombie.
SY: Not Bie (Rain) but a zombie?
I am not sure if it was the intent of the writer but I found this exchange really funny because Rain is a famous Korean singer, actor and producer.

@cgwm808, thank you for the list! I was fortunate enough to learn some Chinese characters while attending middle school in Korea. As you know, Korean students are required to learn Chinese starting middle school (at least when I was in middle school). I only know a very limited number of Chinese characters but enough to help me with my research when I come across some of these sayings.



I remember that part and it was funny. That’s why I miss that drama so much :cry:

In a K drama I saw around 2013 titled BIG it sounded like the woman was saying 비 (rain) or 피 (blood) but the subtitle said [disgusting] and when I asked around I was told it meant: I don’t like it.

Does ‘‘I don’t like it’’ sound like blood or rain? A combo of both? After 7 years you might decipher the mystery for me (hopefully).

PS. Sorry the scene was about that she didn’t like beans.

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Hmmm, without actually watching the drama and hearing the dialogue, I can’t be certain but there is a word that uses “비” to express negative feeling towards something.

호감 (ho-gham) = general positive feeling towards something or someone
비호감 (bee-ho-gham) = general negative feeling towards something or someone

In the above case, 비 is a prefix, “un” or “dis”, not a stand-alone word “rain”.

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Finally the mystery is over bc is the [비호감 (bee-ho-gham)] the bee part sounds like ‘‘pee’’ they sound the b like a p. She did said something like (not writing it right but just like I hear it) ‘‘pirohso’’ which sounded so much like asqueroso in spanish that means disgusting. But I was like why she’s saying rain? Oh my goodness I really give up in learning korean is too complicated for me.:anguished:

I went to google put what you wrote and heard the word through the magic of their audio thingy.

Thank you for giving me closure after seven years over [I don’t like it] and [rain] in Korean.

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Don’t give up! You can do it! :slight_smile:

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Glad I was able to help.:blush: I have to applaud you for not giving up for 7 years. You have a wonderful attitude towards language learning so please don’t give up.

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I know I can’t bc one, I waited too long to learn, and the older we are, the harder it is to learn a new language. But what complicates my learning could be also my hard of hearing problem bc to me when the korean talks, all their words sound almost the same . I can no longer differentiate their words when they talk, and my hearing is getting worse by the day, and I won’t wear a hearing aid even when I go completely deaf (well…maybe but as of now, not)

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Thats what I was saying but someone on another tread basically said I was dumb for wanting context! lol


I am not saying that translation without context is impossible but I would prefer knowing the context in order to provide my best translation, especially when slangs are involved. For example, I mentioned the word “대출 (dae-chul)” at the top of this thread which means “a loan” but in the drama that I was working on it was used as a slang term to mean “substitute attendance”.


Especially with the number of homonyms in Korean, context becomes even more important.

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Hi @choitrio bothering u again. If you have time…

I heard the word (pirohso) I don’t know how to write it.in Korean, and they defined it as [I don’t need it]

Don’t know if you can recognize the word the way I wrote it here, but can u do me a fave and let me know how you would write : I don’t need it. Thanks in advance and I’m sorry to be asking so much. If by chance the word I wrote there (pirohso) u can recognize it, what definition/translation you would use?

I don’t like it
I don’t need it.
Maybe it can be all three?

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