Language binds and blinds. Jargons are coined every day and used exclusively in particular social groups. The words are cues to tell whether you are a member of the group, limitless in variety from academia to teenager crews. Once Korean society worried how jargons, especially online slangs, defect “original” and standard Korean language. However, think about how “choong”, a set of jargons rooted in youngsters, now prevails throughout the mainstream culture including mass media. Indeed, the new frame to view neologism is to accept its existence and analyze its etymology and society that it reflects. The Sogang Herald ponders over the how contemporarily popular online word coinage has seeped through the society and the bleak topologies of maladies such as hatred or polarization that language reflects.
The Etymology of Choong
The first coinage of choong dates further back then 2002, when the National Institute of Korean Language (NIKL) officially registered it as a new neologism. It reflected the word’s popularity in DC Inside, one of the most famous Internet forums of Korea. Initially, choong was merely a part of the word munwaechoong which shows disgust towards nonsensical people, while the literal meaning is a “brainless person.” Currently the word is widely used as an affix to belittle any kinds of noun that comes before it. Most representatively, teenagers who eat school meals from elementary, middle, or high schools are referred to as geupsikchoong. In ripple effect, the word has developed into other applications such as haksikchoong, which refers to college students that eat in cafeterias or geupsikchae, a set of online dialects used by geupsikchoong. Primarily the word pivoted on social media such as Facebook. However, its influence is undeniably no more that of a subculture: television programs including Saturday Night Live are introducing it as a trend, contributing to its predominance.
Group Polarization and Language
In the past people worried that Korean lexicon would shrink because of online coinage, but contemporary jargons set a rather socially-oriented agenda. Specifically, the current agenda is how hatred and discriminationappears and reinforces itself in language. Of course, the close relationship between language and society has always remained under spotlight, and language is a mirror for the minds’ deepest political, social or ethical foundation. However, group polarization online according to age, gender, wealth, academic credentials, or profession, makes use of word coinage for their extremity and conformity. To bring back how choong has become the vogue, its popularity has had ups and downs according to hatred towards a certain social group. For example, when medical schools were first established in Korea, people belittled current or potential attendees as ui-jionchoong. The word regained its power to denigrate egoistic moms as mom choong, or patriarchal seniors as teul-ddakchoong, mocking clicking noise from dentures.
Professor JooSae-hyung (Dept. of Korean Language and Literature) commented that “The language itself is innocent. The problem lies within the social maladies and attitudes of hate speech users.” Indeed, to think about how language is used to express hatred, it initially stems out of vulgar criticism from online communities such as Ilbae or DC Inside. Due to their inner-oriented atmosphere, words are either empowered or abolished with incomparable speed. However, say a coinage in easy within an online website where users sharing similar thoughts and values, then how can we explain its general popularity from the public?
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu emphasizespredominance linguistic habitus, an inner sensitivity of linguistic acceptability. In other words, our control tower for language cannot be explained solely by logical intentions, but is instead dominated by our feelings that anticipate acceptability. Professor Lee Jeong-bok (Daegu University) analyzed how such sensibility is becoming loose among general public. He redefined discriminatory expressions in Korean context as “language that explicitly or implicitly polarize, offend or discriminate people depending on differences,” and he focuses on the objects’ reactions.
Pertaining to online dialogues, Prof. Lee said, users’ habitus against discriminatory expressions become numb either in production or reception, under three types of discriminatory expressions: expressions with different functions, target or semantic misunderstanding. Using swears that discriminates the disabled for the purpose of self-mocking (byungsinmee) or release of psychological stress, falls under the first category. Referring to clumsy drivers as Mrs. Kim, a word tainted with gender discrimination, is an example for an expression for a different target. Standard language that has a long history of tacit discrimination such as beong-eo-ree, mockingly referring to people with speech disturbance, is a word semantically misused. He argues that all three types of discriminatory speech are prone to spread in greater pace as the offended cannot find the exact subject to criticize. Indeed, most of the trends in online communities are opaque and undefined. Previously unilateral communication switched two-way, so the source of expressions are not identifiable. What is more, all three types of discriminatory speeches are unintentional: the majority of objection towards the violence are treated as too sensitive, or Jinjichoong–people that are over-serious and sober.
Owing to the interconnectedness of the Internet, word coinage is an everyday experience. However, it is a double-edged sword: linguistic sensitivity is a taboo to belong to the mainstream culture. Not only does the sensitivity relate to personal status, emotions and personalities, but also it is impossible to blame a concrete source, or tell true intentions of the discomforting speech. On top of that, neologism etymology is not academically studied widely enough, and defects are hardly measurable. Indeed, as Prof. Joo said, if any harm is done by the language, looking back to the social maladies is the very first step to take. The initial question to throw is this: since when did coolness equaled insensitivity?
By Choi Hye-jeong (Public Opinion Editor)