Umma! I’m ddonging!” My sister Kyung Eun shouts through an open bathroom door. Ddong, the Korean word for poop, is a verb in our household. We like to add the present participle -ing to Korean words. We like to Konglicize communication.

Konglish (n): Korean + English.


1. English used by Korean speakers.

People often ask what language I speak at home. Being bilingual, I used to say that I speak English with my sisters and Korean with my parents. The truth is that I’m a walking portmanteau of Korean and English, a native Konglish speaker.

Ddonging” combines the present participle -ing with the alphabet sandwich of two o’s between two p’s. The diphthong in the word “ddong” is a difficult pronunciation for foreigners, a twang exclusive to native Korean speakers.

Kyung Eun coined the term in 2008, a year after our move to America. To her 5-year-old mind, adding -ing to such a natural human practice must have come as an instinct, like defecation itself. The children of the diaspora speak with soft tongues.

2. The broken English of Korean parenthood.

“I need toilet paper, and there’s none left in here! Umma!” Kyung Eun screams again, her head poking out under the fluorescent lights.

Ddonging” is a Konglicization simple enough for my parents, who still struggle with placing articles before nouns. The difference between definite and indefinite is the number of times we have corrected their English, with gentle reminders or collective chides.

I’ve come to understand the way missing articles fragment immigrant English, slicing sentences to accented segments. “Close door please,” Dad grumbles to Kyung Eun ddonging with the door open. “Can I speak to manager?” Mom demands of the store clerk. Sometimes the culprit is a missing auxiliary verb or an out-of-place adjective; “I be there fast!” Dad says on his way to pick us up.

My parents have also adopted their own verbal fillers. Instead of “umh”s and “like”s, they stuff their sentences with endless “you know”s, expecting us to “know” exactly what they mean.

“Don’t wear that shirt. It’s too …! You know?”

Unfortunately for my mother, we often pretend not to know (even though we know — if not us, then who?), which frustrates her to no end. For three immigrant children who have grown second tongues, Konglish is a way to bridge the widening gap.

3. Remnants of loanwords twice removed.

Konglish is not to be confused with Janglish or Chinglish, both listed under the Wikipedia entry for “Engrish.” In an article needing “additional citation for verification,” an anonymous source defines Engrish as the “slang term for the misuse or corruption of the English language by native speakers of Asian languages.”

Commodore Perry accidentally swallows “lice” instead of “rice” in Nagasaki. He creates a Wikipedia page to rationalize the incident, mass-associates all East-Asian corruptions of the English language to Japanese lallation. For reference, my father sometimes confuses his r’s and l’s, presumably because Japanese is his fluent second language. My mother has never confused the two consonants.

Korean is full of loanwords twice removed. The Konglish word “mi-sing” originates from the Japanese “mishin,” shorthand for the English “sewing machine.” “Dress shirts” have moved through a long phonetic journey from “white shirts” to “waishatsu” to “Y-Shirts.” If you go into a Korean restaurant and ask for “service,” you are asking for free food on the house. Some English loanwords do not have Korean equivalents: pizza, vitamins and bananas. All Korean words in pure Korean form are to be used and always remembered.

“Pass the dessert,” one of us will say.

“Here is the hoo-shik,” mother will reply.

4. The native language of diaspora children, masters of neological brilliance.

Unnie!” Kyung Eun lifts her butt off the toilet seat and shuffles towards me, pants at her ankles. Although we communicate mostly in English, I never allow my sisters to call me by my name. Unnie is the appropriate honorific for an older sister.

“Kyung Eun! Go back to the bathroom. Jesus,” I scream and throw the toilet roll in her direction. It bounces off the walls and unravels at her feet. She picks it up, her butt hanging out, and waddles back to the toilet. When she is done, she promptly flushes her waste and marches into the kitchen.

Umma! Why didn’t you get toilet paper for me! I was sitting there forever!” she shrieks, stomping her feet in front of my mother who stands dicing pickled radishes.

Aigoo, sorry, oori aegi.” Oh, my baby. “I busy right now. You know?” she mutters with warm sarcasm.

“God, everyone in this house is such a…” she searches for the right word. My mother is already glaring at her; Kyung Eun knows she cannot swear in front of our parents. “A ddong!”

Kyung Mi Lee |