Run BTS Language Primer

Here is a collection of things to know before you dive into the world of Korean wordplay through Run BTS episodes.

Romanization

Unless you’re new here, you know I’m not a fan of romanization (spelling out Korean words using the English alphabet). However, for this section of my website, I will include romanized spelling of Korean words when it’s a joke or witticism whose punchline revolves around the way the word sounds.

I still recommend that if you are interested in the Korean language, you should just learn Hangul. It sounds like a huge undertaking, but it’s actually not too tough, and in the long run it is much easier than trying to mess with romanized spellings of Korean words.


Konglish

Konglish refers to English words or phrases that have been adopted for use in the Korean language. Because of the differences in the way things are spelled in hangul versus in English, and because the Korean language doesn’t have some sounds that English does (th, f, v), these words are sometimes pronounced a bit differently in Korean than in English.

Some of these words have the exact same meaning in Konglish as they do in English. Examples include:

KoreanEnglish Origin Word
스트레스stress
초콜릿chocolate
키보드keyboard
파일file

Some Konglish words have a different meaning in Korean than the English word they come from. Examples include:

KoreanEnglish Origin wordActual meaning
서비스servicestuff offered “on the house” or
for free to customers
펜션pensiona rentable cottage or house in
the country to vacation in
패딩paddinga down-filled jacket

줄인 말 : Korean “acronyms”

The Korean writing system, called 한글, separates sounds into syllables. Each “block” of letters represents one syllable, so if you look at the words 달려라   방탄 (Run BTS) you can see that the first word has three syllables and the second word has two. 달 려 라 방 탄

Because of this, when Koreans shorten words or phrases into acronyms, they don’t do it using the first letter of each word as it’s done in English (example: brb, asap, ty, lol). Instead, they take the first syllable of each word and put them together to create a shortened word. If you apply this to 달려라 방탄 (dallyeora bangtan), you get 달방 (dalbang). The resulting words, what we’d call acronyms in English, are called 줄인 말 in Korean. This literally means “shortened speech”. It can also be slangily spelled as 줄임 말, because that is how it is pronounced.

Even outside of “official” 주린 말 that may be found in the dictionary, young people in Korea are constantly creating new shortened phrases, or even just shortening phrases on the fly for fun. This pops up repeatedly in Run BTS.


진 팀 : Jin Team

This is probably the longest running gag on Run BTS. I also have an explanation of this joke here, if you want the full detail, but here’s the coles notes:

Jin’s name in hangul is spelled 진. 팀 is Konglish, and of course it means “team”.

Where we’d say “Team Purple” or “Team Canada” in English, they flip the order in Korean, resulting in “Purple Team”, “Canada Team”, etc. Therefore instead of “Team Jin”, they would naturally say “Jin Team”.

Now here’s the joke: the word “지다” means “to lose” (a game, not an object). If you take the 다 off the end, and add a ㄴ to the root syllable, you get 진, which means “lost”. Not the adjective, like “I’m lost in the woods” but the past tense verb, like “I lost the game.” This word then can be placed in front of a noun to mean that that noun lost.

So when a team is named 진 팀 it doesn’t just mean “Team Jin”, it also means, “the team that lost”.


아재개그 : Dad Jokes

Jin is famous for his 아재개그, which we associate with “dad jokes”, but the translation of the Korean is slightly different.

First of all, the Korean word 아저씨 [ajeosshi] is used to refer to or address a man of middle age, or who is significantly older than you. All men from 40 to about 60 can be referred to as 아저씨, but age is somewhat relative, so even a 30 year old man can be called 아저씨 by children or younger teenagers.

In some dialects, the word 아재 [ajae] is used instead of 아저씨. That’s where the first two syllables of the word 아재개그 come from.

개그 is a Konglish word that comes from the word “gag”, and is used to refer to jokes and quips. For example, the Korean word for “comedian” is 개그맨 – literally “gag man”.

So what we call “dad jokes” in English, they call “middle aged guy jokes” in Korean.


Run BTS Korean wordplay primer