Oxford English Dictionary gets ‘K-update,’ adds 20 new words

The Oxford English Dictionary has become the latest piece of Western culture to be hit by the “Korean wave.”

The definitive document of the English language has announced that, in response to the increasing popularity of certain South Korean cultural exports, over 20 new words of Korean origin have been added to its pages.

“K-pop, K-drama, K-beauty, K-food, K-style —these days, everything seems to be getting prefixed with a K- as South Korea’s popular culture continues to rise in international popularity,” the OED wrote in a recent blog post regarding its September update.

“We are all riding the crest of the Korean wave, and this can be felt not only in film, music, or fashion, but also in our language, as evidenced by some of the words and phrases of Korean origin included in the latest update of the Oxford English Dictionary.”

The new batch of K-related words includes entries for mukbang, “a video featuring a person eating a large quantity of food and talking to the audience,” the comic book genre manhwa and the traditional Korean clothing hanbok. There’s also a wide variety of new food listings, including the word for small side dishes, banchan; bulgogi, “a dish of thin slices of beef or pork which are marinated then grilled or stir-fried”; and the sushi-roll-like rice dish kimbap.

The oldest K-word in the OED, the blog post notes, is “Korean,” and was initially added in a 1933 supplement to the dictionary. It wasn’t until 2016 that “K-pop” was added to the document, and it was in fact preceded in the OED by the addition of “trot,” an older genre of Korean music originating in the early 1900s. 

The fact that the freshly added words are already well-known to many in the English-speaking world points to a significant shift in modern linguistics, the OED notes. That Korean words are being adopted into the English language demonstrates “how lexical innovation is no longer confined to the traditional centers of English in the United Kingdom and the United States — they show how Asians in different parts of the continent invent and exchange words within their own local contexts, then introduce these words to the rest of the English-speaking world, thus allowing the Korean wave to continue to ripple on the sea of English words.”

The K-pop group Blackpink performs at Coachella in 2019.
Getty Images for Coachella

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