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23 Essential K-Drama Words You Need to Know


Whether you’re a new or veteran drama fan, there are some Korean terms essential to understanding your favorite dramas. Even with subtitles, some words don’t have direct translations into other languages and are often either skipped or spelled out phonetically. Learn the following terms to sound like a Hallyu expert!

aegyo (EGG-yo) — The act of making a cute face and trying to act cute and adorable. For some reason, this seems to be a sought-after personality trait by some drama men in the women they date.

aigoo (EYE-goo) — An expression of exasperation, much like “Seriously?!”

ajumma (AH-joo-mah) “Lady” or “woman" with the connotation of being older, possibly with children. You wouldn’t use this for a student or a woman in her 20s.

ahjussi (AH-juh-shee)  Man or mister.” Like “ajumma,” this usually refers to an older man and wouldn’t be used for someone younger than you.

chaebol (JEH-bohl) — Heir to a family conglomerate business. If you were to believe K-dramas, they’re everywhere, and they’re usually smoking hot and moody!

Some of our favorite drama chaebols include Ji Sung in ‘Kill Me, Heal Me,’ Choi Jin Hyuk and Lee Min Ho in ‘Heirs’ and So Ji Sub in ‘Master’s Sun

Chosun Dynasty (JOH-sun, sometimes written as Joseon Dynasty) Era in Korean history from 1392 to 1897, when many famous kings ruled and evil family members tried to kill them. Most Korean historical dramas take place during this period, and many time-travel dramas involve traveling between this era and present day.

daebak (DEH-bak) — An expression of amazement, much like “No way!” Characters usually lower their voice an octave when saying this word.

dong-seng (DOHNG-seng) — “Younger brother.” This can be used to express a close relationship with someone younger even if that person is not biologically related.

Fighting! (be sure to pronounce the T very strongly as in FIE-TING!) — A standalone word that is usually said very loudly while accompanied by a held-up fist, this word is used to encourage someone to do well before they face a tough situation or go into a lion’s den.

Gyung-bae! (GYUNG-beh) — “Cheers!” If you don’t say it before you down a shot of soju in a K-drama, it’s probably because you’re alone and feeling sorry for yourself that you don’t have anyone to make a toast with!

heol (HULL— An expression of surprise much like “daebak” but more along the lines of “OMG.” You should deepen your voice for maximum effect.

hoobae (WHO-beh) A younger schoolmate. It also can be used to refer to a coworker who is hired after you. In dramas, a lot of hazing comes with the territory of being the “hoobae.” You’re always stuck paying for coffee or doing other menial tasks for your “sunbae.”

hyung (make sure to pronounce both the H and Y and rhyme with sung— “Older brother” when a younger boy or man is referring to another boy or man who is older. It can be used for anyone that is a close friend and doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re biologically related.

jjang (JAHNG with a hard J sound) — A term that means “the best” or “the greatest.” 

K-drama— Contraction of “Korean” and “drama” that only the truest K-drama fans use. Dont ever be caught saying Korean drama.

K-pop— Contraction of “Korean and “pop” that only true fans use to refer to a type of music that often involves a group of Korean men or women dancing in perfect synchronicity to a catchy tune that won’t leave your brain. As with K-drama, don’t be caught saying “Korean pop”!

The cool dance moves of the popular K-pop boy band INFINITE-H

kimchi (KIM-CHEE) — The national food of Korea that is universally eaten and beloved by all Korean people so much so that they devote entire dramas to the worship of this pickled or fermented cabbage. Although cabbage kimchi is the most common, the Korean people have turned pickling and fermenting of almost every type of vegetable into an art form.

noona (NU-nah) The term for “older sister” that a boy or man calls a girl or woman who is older (the term used by females calling older females is “unnie”). But the term is often used by younger men to refer to an older woman that they like. “Noona romances” are a common storyline in K-dramas, and for some inexplicable reason, three years or eight years older seem to be the magic numbers for the “acceptable” age gap between a young man and a “noona.

oppa (OH-pah) — The term for “older brother” by girls or women referring to a male who is older. The term is used by women to refer to any friend or man who is a few years older, especially by the “third wheel” in a Korean drama who wants to get close to or steal a man away from another woman.

Yo Na (played by Ji Sung, top) finds her ‘oppa’ (played by Park Seo Joon) in ‘Kill Me, Heal Me

ramen (RAHM-yun) — The ubiquitous instant noodles that everybody in K-dramas eats so deliciously!

Jun Ji Hyun makes eating ramen look refined in ‘My Love From the Star

sageuk (SAH-guk)  A Korean historical drama, usually set in the Chosun Dynasty, when the people spoke in a type of Korean thats hard for even Korean people to understand. In most sageuks, theres usually a king or crown prince who is trying to keep from being overthrown.

Some of our favorite sageuks include ‘The King’s Face’ (top) and ‘Secret Door

sunbae (SUN-beh) — A term to refer to someone older who attended the same school but graduated ahead of you. Its a term of respect that everyone who graduated after you from the same school (hoobae) needs to call you. But being a sunbae in Korean dramas carries the burden of being asked for favors, jobs or money.

unnie (UN-nee) — The term for “older sister” that a girl or woman calls someone older. This term is used to refer to someone older who may not necessarily be biologically related to show a close relationship.

Is there a commonly used K-drama word that you think we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

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