Word Wednesday #3: Saying Hello

At request of my father, on the basis of learning words that will be handy should you ever run into a Korean, I shall teach the most basic word of all: hello.

This is the first Korean word that I learned, and so it wouldn’t be fitting if I didn’t post it here near the beginning of Word Wednesdays. Without doubt, and perhaps only closely followed by “thank you”, it’s the word that’s gotten me around Korea the easiest. That said, it’s quite the mouthful, so I’ll also include the abbreviation for non-formal, friendly occasions. And so – on with the learning!

Word: 안녕하세요, anyeonghaseyo (ahn-yohng-hah-say-yo), “hello”

Definition: Although it translates very simply to “hello”, this five-syllable word literally means, “Are you at peace?” Rhetorically speaking, you’re not supposed to answer literally however. I suppose the equivalent is the same as Westerners greeting “Sup?” with “Sup?” It’s a traditional phrase that, like most traditional phrases who have outlived their original etymology, is more tradition than contemplated for its internal meaning. And, like most traditional phrases in any language, it’s used in formal speech – in Korea, to speak to elders and superiors.

As such, the term has been abbreviated into “안녕”, or “anyeong” (ahn-yohng), which is the informal way of saying “hi” to your friends. If you’re the same age as the person you’re speaking to (or are older than them), then anyeong will suffice. I suppose in this case the most comparable contrast would be “how do you do?” to “whaddup?”

So go hence, now that you’re capable of greeting Koreans! They’ll love that you know this simple gesture, it means a lot to them. Korean being a language isolate (ie. it has no other language derived from it, even dialects), not many people take the time to learn the tongue of the Koreas. So wow your Korean friends, acquaintances, or even strangers you encounter and show off your multilingualism!

10 thoughts on “Word Wednesday #3: Saying Hello

  1. Believe it or not, this lesson came in handy! I now work right next to a Korean depanneur where they make lunches on premises: Bimbo, soup, etc. I kept your “lesson” in my phone and when I went to see them today I was all happy to try it out: Ahn-yohng hah say yo I said, am I pronouncing it right? They answered yes and repeated it so I could see that I got it right. They were all happy and taught me how to say “Thank You” this way: It’s like in French they said: Comme ça. So can you please teach me “how are you” and “fine” for my visit next week?


      1. Agreed! Though I must say I have a special place in my heart for spicy Thai.
        Speaking of which, we’re going to Singapore , Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia (Bali). I nearly can’t wait!!!


      2. I’m particularly envious of Bali – been wanting to go since I laid hands on that Indigo Taschen book “Living in Bali”. Send a postcard if you can? 😀


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