There are some words in English that, pronounced just slightly off, sound like the more colourful side vocabulary has to offer. Fudge, sheet, beach…
Well, Korean isn’t any different. But their version is – at least to foreign ears – quite comical.
Word (non offensive): 십팔 세기 shippal saegi (sheep-pahl say-gee)
Definition: The 18th century.
Word (rather offensive): 씨발 새끼 sshibal saeggi (sshee-bahl say-ggee)
Definition: Fuck + baby of animal – so essentially, fucking son of a bitch.
As you can see, though in Korean they’re spelled relatively differently, the sound is dramatically similar. Enough so to make it dramatically dramatic if one is lazy enough not to pronounce each syllable clearly (imagine a slurring lecturer insulting talking about the happenings of the 1700’s??).
Not only that but the main thing that would make them sonically distinguishable for Koreans are exceptionally hard for foreigners to 1) notice, and 2) replicate. These would be the double “ss” and the double “gg”, each representing softer sounding consonants than a regular “s” and “g”. Impossible, I say, to tell the difference.
I first learned the word shippal while I was at Orientation in October. We were all given a complimentary Korean class and in mine we learned numbers. When we got to 18, the young coordinator leaders giggled and let us know that we very much needed to concentrate while we were saying this number, or we’d be dropping the Korean equivalent of the f-bomb in inauspicious circumstances.
From that point on, I’ve made it a point to always pronounce the double “p” sound in shippal. Not that that’s come up on a very regular basis as a thing in my lexicon, thank the eighteenth century.
The other weekend I was in Seoul with my co-teacher, JH, and we decided to swap swears. I taught her câlisse de tabarnak and she taught me the extended version of sshibal, which is to add on saeggi. This was also when I was let in on the Korean inside joke that it means “eighteenth century” if you don’t say it right, and vice versa.
In fact, she told me, people often will say “eighteenth century” as an alternative to swearing – similar to how we say “fudgesicles!” or “freaking” or “frack” instead of “fuck”.
And thus, my idiolect expanded and I felt compelled to share such glorious knowledge with you lovely readers.