How Korean is Becoming Two Languages

Want to know the differences between North and South Korean languages?

Koreans used to speak a common tongue, but decades of separation have led to some interesting divergences.

Find out how and why the Korean language is changing.


An interesting thing happened between North and South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

After being divided for 70 years by a war that’s still ongoing, their respective Women’s Ice Hockey teams were combined less than a month before the games. 

Since South Koreans use English hockey terms and North Koreans developed Korean equivalents, communication was difficult at first.

One major difference is that South Koreans use the word “Pass”, while North Koreans use “yeol lak” (연락) or “contact” instead.

The head coach of the joint team actually had to create an English to South Korean to North Korean dictionary for hockey terms, so the two groups could communicate. 

Fortunately, they managed to get along and do better than expected.

Origin of South and North Korean Languages

It wasn’t always like this.

Before they became two countries, a Korean Language Society was formed to define the National Orthography(spelling system) in 1933.

This was called Hangeul Matchumbeop Tong-iran (한글 맞춤법 통일안), and was used until 1945.

After the establishment of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) in 1948, their policies regarding language started to diverge.

From the 1960s until 2003, the leadership of North Korea created their own language system based on the soviet model.

South Korea continued to follow the 1933 rules and any subsequent amendments.

After over 70 years of separation, it’s estimated that about a third of everyday words used in North and South Korea are different.

This is a similar rate of divergence to that of U.S. and British English, which have been separated by an ocean for nearly 250 years.

Part of this has to do with a centralized effort by North Korea to regulate the language and the fact that people are prohibited from viewing South Korean media; whereas American T.V. is popular in the U.K. and vice versa.

Some of these differences exist due to factors such as adoption of Japanese and English Loanwords in the South and Russian Loanwords in the North.

Since the languages are becoming increasingly different, a joint association of linguists from both countries was formed to compile a South to North Korean dictionary in the event reunification occurs.

This project is called Gyeoremal-keunsajeon (겨레말 큰사전).

Although it’s roughly 75% complete, the effort was suspended due to increased tensions from nuclear testing and the closing of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North.

Although we don’t get many requests for North Korean translation, it’s fun to learn about their unique words and grammar.

Here are some interesting differences between the two versions of Korean.

Background Info

  • In South Korea, they refer to their language as Hangul whereas in North Korea, it’s known as Joseon-gul. 
    North Koreans use the word “Joseon” as a not-so-subtle way to claim authority over both the north and south, since it was the historical name of the first kingdom of Korea, and the name of the last dynasty that controlled the entire peninsula.
  • There have been different dialects in Korea for thousands of years.
    Currently in South Korea, there are the Seoul and Gyeonggi-do dialect, Gangwon-do in the east, Chungcheong-do in the central west, Gyeongsang-do in the southeast, Jeolla-do in the southwest, and even Jeju-do on the southern island.
  • Pyeongyang in North Korea was the original capital of Korea according to legend of Dangun, the Korean foundation myth.
    It was also the capital of numerous dynasties spanning centuries, including Gojoseon (2,333 BC??? to 108 BC) and Goguryeo (37 BC to 668 AD) during the three kingdoms period.
    The dialect of Korean in the North was initially different from what was spoken in the South when the country split.
  • South Korea adopted Japanese and English Loanwords, while the North creates Korean versions and uses Russian Loanwords when necessary.
    This is to keep the language purely Korean and to follow the dialect of Pyong’an.
  • The tendencies of North Korea often leave westerners baffled.
    Many of these idiosyncrasies can be explained by its history and culture.
  • The founders of North Korea were considered freedom fighters against Japanese occupation.
    They consider themselves the “true Korea”, while they view South Korea as a puppet of the U.S. and Japan.
  • North Koreans strongly reject anything related to capitalism, including goods, which they think are inferior, and even words.
    Therefore, they reject Japanese and American influence and created Koreanized versions of words.
  • The majority of South Koreans aren’t worried about the North invading.
    They are more concerned with their hectic daily lives and the effect on the KOSPI and KOSDAQ stock markets when North Korea does something provocative.
  • North Korea’s weapons, especially their artillery aimed at Seoul, are mostly from the Korean War period, so they aren’t guaranteed to work.
    Militarily, their main chance is to bombard Seoul with these weapons and send their million troops who are malnourished and poorly equipped across the border to overwhelm South Korea numerically.
  • North Korea’s playbook is similar to the “carrot and the stick” method.
    They’ll threaten military action then give the South hope of reconciliation only to break it off when things are looking up.
    They have done this numerous times in the past 70 years and it’s largely to gain aid and maintain power over the populace.
    It’s also highly unlikely that they’ll denuclearize, given how Ukraine and Libya have fared after doing so.
  • As with most things, the truth is far more nuanced and complicated than what’s condensed and passed off as news.
    North Korea is a media black hole that makes reliable news hard to come by.
    Also, there’s a wide gulf in cultures between the west and east, so understanding events in context is difficult.
    Therefore, a lot of information on North Korea is inaccurate and sensationalized to increase views (no, North Korea didn’t claim to have discovered unicorns).
    It’s important to check sources when reading about the country.

There are some differences since the concepts of words have change due to socio-political factors in North Korea.

Divergent meanings due to socio-political factors

The Korean Peninsula is called Hanbando(한반도) in the South, while it’s referred to as Joseonbando (조선반도) in the North.

As mentioned above, North Koreans use the name “Joseon” to claim legitimacy over both the North and South.

Hanguk jeonjaeng (한국 전쟁) is what South Koreans call the Korean War, but North Koreans call it Choguk’aepangjŏnjaeng(조국해방전쟁) or “Liberation of the Fatherland War”.

Again, another reference to the fact that Northerners think that the South is occupied by capitalist forces.

South Koreans call elementary school, chodeunghakkyo(초등학교), while North Koreans call it sohakkyo(소학교).

Sohakkyo was actually used before the Japanese occupation(1910-1945), when it was changed to 보통학교, which were basically colonial slave training facilities.

Then in 1938, it switched to 심상소학교, and in 1941, 국민학교.

After the Korean war, North Korea changed it to 인민학교, or “people’s school”.

South Korea wanted to use the same name too, but 국민학교, or “national school”, sounded better to the anti-communist government.

The R.O.K. kept using 국민학교 until 1995, when they changed it to 초등학교.

North Korea changed the name to 소학교 (small school) in 2002, following the trend of other east Asian countries.

In South Korea, the word for friend is chingu (친구), but in the North it’s dongmu, (동무) or “comrade”, which is a soviet concept.

Eobeoi (어버이) for instance means “parents” in South Korea, but has been altered to mean the “symbolic title of Kim Il Sung” in the North, which implies that he’s the father to everyone in Korea.

Agassi means “girl” or “miss” in the South, but it means “slave of feudalism” to Northerners.

Another interesting example is “gungjeon” or “palace” in the South, which means “large palace-like building for social activities” in the North.

This is where mass rallies are held by North Koreans.

Differences in Hangul Usage in South and North Korea

Character Order

In South Korea, vowels are in this order:

ㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ

with consonants in this order:

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

In North Korea, vowels are ordered like this:

ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅚ ㅟ ㅢ ㅘ ㅝ ㅙ ㅞ

with consonants in this sequence:

ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ ㅇ

Character Names

Some characters and digraphs have different names in the South and North.

LetterSouth Korean NameNorth Korean Name
기역 기윽 
디귿 디읃
쌍기역 된기윽 
쌍디귿 된디읃 
쌍비읍 된비읍 
쌍시옷 된시읏 
쌍지읒 된지읒 

Character Usage

Both countries use the same characters, however, in North Korea, the letter ㅌ that represents the letter T is written as ㄷ with a separate horizontal stroke on top.

Character organization is different as well.

Additionally, the digraphs and trigraphs in South Korean vowels,ㅔ, ㅖ, ㅘ, ㅙ, ㅚ, ㅝ, ㅞ, ㅟ, ㅢ  and the consonant digraphs ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ aren’t used separately and require a ㅇ for vowels and a vowel for consonants respectively.

In North Korea, they’re used as separate letters.

Some letters and digraphs have different names in the South and North.


As we touched on earlier, the North Korean language is based on the Pyong’an dialect, while South Korean is based on the Seoul dialect.

This leads to some notable differences.

It’s difficult to make generalizations regarding how both languages sound, since there’s a large amount of variation within each dialect.

Some generalizations are that North Korean sounds more old-fashioned and militant to South Koreans.

This is exacerbated by state news announcers in North Korea who sound like they’re declaring war, even when they’re reading the weather forecast.

Not surprisingly, North Koreans will often lose this accent when living in South Korea.

On the other hand, South Korean sounds smoother and weaker to North Koreans.


In the Seoul dialect, ㅈ, ㅊ and ㅉ are usually pronounced with alveolo-palatal affricates [tɕ], [tɕʰ], [tɕ͈].

This means they will sound more like a “ch” sound in English.

In the Pyongyang dialect, they’re predominantly pronounced with alveolar affricates [ts], [tsʰ], [ts͈].

This means that they sound more like an “s” sound.

Also, 지 and 시 can be pronounced without palatalisation as [tsi] in the Pyongyang dialect, which sound more like a “sh” sound.

In Sino-Korean words, sometimes ㄴ and ㄹ letters that come at the beginning of a word aren’t pronounced or written in the South, but all beginning ㄴ and ㄹ are written in the North.

For example, South Koreans typically don’t pronounce and write the initial ㄹ(r/l) and some of the initial ㄴ (n) while they’re written and pronounced in North Korea.

For example, the surname “Lee” is written as 이 and pronounced as “ee” with a short ”i” sound.

In North Korea however, it’s written as 리 and pronounced as”Ri.”

Also, the South Korean word 여자, meaning woman, is written as 녀자 in North Korea.

But since this pronunciation was mandated in the North during the 1960s, it’s common for older speakers to be unable to pronounce initial ㄴ and ㄹ properly, so they pronounce them the same way they do in the South.

Vocabulary Differences Between South and North Korea

EnglishSouth KoreanNorth Korean
airport공항 gonghang항공역 hanggongyeok
become되어 (돼) doe-eo (dwae)되여 doe-yeo
bloom피어 (펴) pieo (pyeo)피여piyeo
boat배 bae젓기배 jeotgibae
border (be close to)국경 (인접하다) gookgyung (injeophada)(린)접(하다) (rin)jeop(hada)
central area중심부 joongsimbu중앙부 joongangbu
cold water냉수 naengsu랭수 raengsu
corn옥수수 oksusu강냉이 gangnaeng-i
count세어 se-eo세여 se-yeo
cow cart수레 su-re달구지 dalguji
crosswalk횡단보도 hwengdanbodo건늠길 gunnumgil
doughnut도넛 do-neot가락지빵 garakjibbang
dream꿈 ggoom잠나라 jamnara
elementary school초등학교 chodeunghakkyo소학교 sohakkyo
entrance입구 ibgu나들문 nadulmun
fall낙하 nakha락하 rakha
friend친구 chingu동무 dongmu
goalkeeper골키퍼 golkipeo문지기 munjigi (literally ‘gatekeeper’)
goose거위 geowi게사니 gesani
hammer망치 mangchi마치 machi 
handbag핸드백 haen-deu-baeg손 가방 son-ga-bang
homeland본국 bon-gook조국 jo-gook
ice cream아이스크림 aisukuream에스키모/얼음과자 esukimo/eoreumgwaja
jump뛰어 ttui-eo뛰여 ttui-yeo
Korean Peninsula한반도 Hanbando조선반도 Choseonbando
Korean War한국 전쟁 Hanguk jeonjaeng조국해방전쟁 Choguk haebangjeonjaeng
lettuce상추 sangchu부루 buru
mask마스크 masuku얼굴가리개 eolgulgarigae
milk우유 ooyu소젖 sojeot
multi-national다국적 da-gook-jeok다민족 da-min-jok
near가까워 gakkawo가까와 gakkawa
past과거 gwageo어제날 eojaenal
Poland폴란드 Pollandeu뽈스까 Ppolsukka
practice연습 yeonseup련습 ryeonseup
rainbow무지개 mujigae색동다리 saekdongdari
restroom (lavatory)화장실 hwajangsil위생실 wisaengsil
sausage소시지 sosiji칼파스, 고기순대 kalpasu, gogisundae
scarf목도리 mokdori목수건 moksugeon
stairs계단 gyedan디대 didae
stocking스타킹 seutaking스토킹 sutoking
store가게 gagae가가 gaga
take out내어 nae-eo내여 nae-yeo
territory영토 yeongto령토 ryeongto
thankful고마워 gomawo고마와 gomawa
tractor트랙터 teuraekteo뜨락또르 tturakttoru
vegetable야채 yachae남새 namsae
white희어 hieo희여 hiyeo
woman여자 yeoja녀자 nyeoja

21 Interesting, Funny and Tragic Translation Errors

translation company errors

Translation is an after-thought for most businesses.

We get it.

Slick company mousepads and employee trips to Disneyworld are a priority, while communicating with customers takes a backseat.

To be fair, it’s not easy to find a good translation company.

Rather than get preachy about how bad translation will ruin your business, here are some amusing and tragic examples of when it goes wrong.

Olympic Chefs Use Google Translate to Order 1,500 Eggs, End up with 15,000

Is cholesterol a performance enhancer?

Norway’s Olympic team chefs at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang might have hoped so when they accidentally ordered 15,000 of them.

After using Google Translate to buy their groceries at a local supermarket, a truckload of never-ending eggs arrived.

Fortunately, they were better at math than translation and figured out that they had ordered too many.

The grocery store was kind enough to take the rest back as they were wondering if eggs were the only thing Norwegians eat.

(See the article here)

NPR Tries to Tweet Something Inspirational, Says Something Horrible Instead 

2018 was a great year for women entering politics, unfortunately, it was a horrible one for translation.

NPR tweeted that 2018 was the “year of the woman” in both Spanish and English.

However, they forgot the ever-important tilde symbol (~) over the ‘n’, writing instead “el ano de la mujer”.

NPR must have gained some interesting new readers after that.

(See the article here)

Danish Healthcare Workers Legally Obligated to Use State Approved Interpreters, End up Giving Patient Diarrhea

There are people from 200 countries in Denmark.

Most of them are in trouble if they need help from the government.

Denmark spends 305 million Kroner (36 million USD) on interpreters a year without a strict screening procedure.

They rely on government employees such as nurses to decide whether they are competent.

This recipe for disaster led to one patient being prescribed olive oil and gaining a serious case of the “backdoor trots”.

(See the article here)

Walmart Canada Tries to Sell Swimsuits, Body Shames Instead

Et tu Walmart?

All both people who go to Walmart in Canada to buy swimwear are in store for some judgement.

One of their third-party ads for plus-sized floral print bathing suits stated that it was the “best choice for fat girls to spend hot summer.”

The most unbelievable part is that they have a summer in Canada.

(See the article here)

Brexit Adds Poor Translation to its List of Woes

If you can’t spell the name of the language you translate properly, you might want to reevaluate your career choice.

A white paper regarding the Brexit deal in 27 E.U. languages was riddled with translation errors.

Some notable ones were the Polish and Estonian versions misspelling the names of their respective countries.

Also, the French version wrote “principled Brexit” as “un Brexit vertueux”, which implies that the UK’s departure from the E.U. is virtuous or morally correct.

Maybe the British need the E.U. more than they think.

(See the article here)

Attempt to Collect Parking Fees in Welsh County Backfires due to Translation Errors

OK idea, poor execution.

The Welsh have battled to preserve their language for centuries.

Oddly enough, their biggest threat was not the British Empire, but government incompetence.

Wrexham Council attempted to introduce a £1 daily parking fee at three country parks to increase revenue for upkeep.

Unfortunately, they forgot to hire a competent translator for their signs.

A vigilant Samaritan underlined the errors in red and wrote “ofnadwy” underneath, which translates to “awful” in perfect Welsh.

The Welsh haven’t returned fire this deadly since they invented the longbow.

(See the article here)

President Carter’s Interpreter has Rudimentary Knowledge of Polish, Entertains Two Countries

Jimmy Carter seldom got the respect he deserved.

Maybe if he had the right interpreter it would have been different.

On a visit to Poland, President Carter was assigned a Russian interpreter who was not exactly well-versed in Polish.

He misinterpreted phrases like “when I left the United States” to “when I abandoned the United States”, and “your desires for the future” to “your lusts for the future”.

Needless to say, President Carter became a hit with the ladies there.

(See the article here)

Nikita Kruschev is Misinterpreted as Threatening, Really is Just Menacing

Nikita Kruschev was not a guy you’d want to cross, especially at the height of the cold war.

His bombastic persona influenced how some of his words were interpreted.

An impromptu exchange, known as the “Kitchen Debate”, with then Vice President Richard Nixon was communicated in English as “we will bury you”.

This was viewed as a literal threat of nuclear attack, which escalated tensions even further between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

In reality, he meant something more like, “we will live to see you buried”. Which pretty much means, you will die, but by your own incompetence.

See, isn’t that much better now?

(See the article here)

HSBC Spends 10 Million Dollars on a Translation Error

HSBC is one of the largest financial institutions in the world.

They are not, however, immune to mistranslation.

After spending presumably millions to come up with “Assume Nothing” as a slogan, it was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in multiple countries.

They then had to spend another 10 million dollars to rebrand, which was probably found between their couch cushions.

(See the article here)

Minor Error Causes Global Turmoil

Warren Buffet once said he goes to Wall Street to watch people make mistakes.

Maybe he should have gone to the headquarters of China News Service instead.

An article by reporter Guan Xiangdong made some casual and speculative remarks about financial reports, but the English translation sounded much more literal.

This led to a panic in the global foreign exchange market and a subsequent plunge in the value of the dollar.

Which leads one to wonder if the translator was trading Forex.

(See the article here)

Biblical Translation Gets One Word Wrong, Gives us Some Very Cool Statues

St. Jerome is the literal patron saint of translators, but even he needed a proofreader.

Ever the overachiever, he studied Hebrew so he could translate the Old Testament into Latin.

However, he misread a critical word describing what was on Moses’ head when he descended from Mount Sinai.

He mistook “karan”, which means “radiance”, for “keren”, which means “horned”.

As luck would have it, his version became the basis of hundreds of translations for centuries.

Fortunately, we were gifted some epic artwork featuring a horned Moses.

(See the article here)

Mistranslation Gives Japan Two Valentines Days

Valentines Day is probably one of the most loved and reviled holidays in the world.

Started in mid-February to Christianize a Pagan Roman festival and moved to commemorate an execution somehow, it is a celebration of love and Hallmark’s best day after Christmas.

In 1968, Japanese chocolate companies started mimicking western holidays and the companies that were making a killing because of them.

Unfortunately for Japanese women, there was a mistranslation along the way that made it obligatory for women to give chocolates to men.

Not to be outdone, a follow-up “White Day” was invented for men to reciprocate.

Korea took it one step further (as they are known to do) with “Black Day” for single people to eat Jjajangmyun (짜장면), a type of black bean noodle dish, and lament their crippling loneliness.

Even to this day, men and women all over East Asia can thank bad translation for having to deal with two sham holidays instead of one.

(See the article here)

Italian Astronomer Gives Birth to Martians

Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli loved looking at Mars.

So much so that he avoided alcohol and caffeine to better focus on it for hours.

His observations were so detailed that they were used until the dawn of the space probe era.

He wrote of dark and light areas on Mars as “continents” and “seas” for lack of a better term.

The light areas snaking through the continents were described as “canali” or channels, which sound an awful lot like “canals” in English.

This allowed people’s imaginations to run wild with speculation about canals created by life forms on Mars.

Thanks to him, Tom Cruise could add “martians” to the list of things he ran from in movies.

(See the article here)

Mistranslation Leads to Dramatic Drop in Productivity

Street Fighter 2 was a staple for kids growing up in the 90s.

It was even cooler when a mistranslation led to the birth of a secret character.

In the game, Ryu says, “if you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!”, in Japanese.

The translator was evidently not a fan of the game and left the phrase “Rising Dragon Punch”, which is the name of a move, as “Sheng Long”.

This was misinterpreted as the name of a secret character by dateless nerds around the world.

Gamers then began to waste even more of their time trying to find this secret character.

A gaming magazine went so far as to publish fake instructions with a doctored screenshot of “Sheng Long” on April Fools Day.

This wasn’t revealed to be a hoax until 8 months later, which still didn’t stop me from spending all my lunch money at the arcade.

(See the article here)

Two Versions of a Treaty are Signed, Centuries of Discord Ensue

The Maori during the British Colonial period rank up there with the Zulus on the list of people you shouldn’t mess with.

However, even they were not powerful enough to overcome inconsistent translation.

At the time, the Maori wanted the British to keep their citizens in line, who were marauding around the countryside, while the British wanted to expand their territory.

The Treaty of Waitani was created to somehow make both sides happy.

Unfortunately, they signed two different documents with one favoring the British and one favoring the Maori.

To this day, the details of the treaty are being worked out.

This is why we can’t get along.

(See the article here)

Another Bad Translation, Another Drop in Stock Price

Shigeru Miyamoto is considered to be the “father of gaming” at Nintendo after having created iconic characters such as Mario.

Back in 2011, he was in dire need of a vacation.

He started going around the office saying he was going to retire.

For people working at Nintendo, it was just another Tuesday as he is known for his sense of humor.

Unfortunately, investors weren’t laughing when they caught wind of this and began to dump Nintendo stock in fear that he was leaving.

In actuality, he was just blowing off some steam and was not leaving the industry.

Chalk this one up more to rumor and people being unable to take a joke.

(See the article here)

Interpreter Gets One Word Wrong, Costs State 71 Million Dollars

Translation errors aren’t always a laughing matter.

They can cause international incidents or even bodily harm.

This was the case when a comatose Willie Ramirez was admitted to a Florida hospital in 1980.

His family attempted to explain the situation in Spanish using the term “intoxicado”, meaning poisoned.

This of course sounds like intoxicated to English speakers with a weak grasp of Spanish.

The doctor proceeded to treat him as such when he was actually suffering from an intracerebral hemorrhage.

By the time they realized what was wrong, he had lost the use of his limbs.

The family sued and was awarded 71 million dollars in damages.

(See the article here)

Incorrect Translation Leads to 12 Deaths

Chemotherapy is no picnic, especially when you get 20 percent more than usual.

The trouble began when radiation machines at a hospital in France were upgraded to American ones with English instruction manuals.

This led to 450 patients receiving 20% more radiation than necessary over the course of 4 years.

The radiologist, Joshua Anah, only made things worse by doubling down and denying any wrongdoing.

Of the 450 patients that were overexposed, 12 died as a result, while the majority suffered health complications.

The two doctors in charge were sentenced to 4 years in prison, fined 20,000 euros and banned for life from practicing medicine.

Anah was sentenced to 3 years in prison, fined 10,000 euros and banned for only 5 years from practicing radiology.

(See the article here)

Mistranslation gets America Involved in a Quagmire

Continuing with the tragic side of bad translation, we take you to 1964 when U.S. naval ships were patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin.

The U.S. government received mistranslated reports of the North Vietnamese attacking its ships twice before it decided to enter the Vietnam War.

The original report only mentioned one attack, since a second one didn’t happen.

This didn’t stop the N.S.A. from destroying the original document and insisting that the false report was true.

That was the last time the N.S.A. ever overstepped its boundaries.

(See the article here)

Nokia Fails to Check the Meaning of Name in Other Countries

Branding is never easy as evidenced by HSBC above.

It’s even more difficult when you name your product after the world’s oldest profession.

Nokia was on top of the world before Apple and Samsung came along and released their smartphones.

In an attempt to catch up, they rebranded one of their phones as “Lumina”, which is Spanish for a “lady of the night”.

Fortunately for them, the Spanish have a sense of humor and news of their phone spread like wildfire.

(See the article here)

Chinese Pepsi Brings you Back from the Dead

This one was neither confirmed nor refuted, but we’ll include it anyhow.

Chinese and English translation is one of the trickier language pairs as evidenced by the baffling translations seen on both ends. Transcreation is especially needed to run an effective branding campaign.

What was intended to mean, “Come alive with Pepsi”, came out as, “Pepsi brings your dead ancestors back to life” in Chinese.

Needless to say, Coca-cola is still number one in China.

(See the article here)

21 Korean Drinking Games for an Epic Night

15 minute read

Interested in Korean drinking games?

Want to make Korean friends fast?

Or looking to make a big splash at your next business meeting?

In Korea they say, “someone who eats lunch alone will never get ahead”. The same can be said for those who don’t drink socially.

In the interest of helping you be successful, here are some must-know Korean drinking games.


South Korean drinking culture originates from the Goryeo Dynasty (936–943) and is a large part of adult life. Alcohol is even a socially-acceptable gift.

The Korean drinking age is 19, or 18 in international age (you are one year old at birth in Korea).

Koreans usually begin drinking when they enter uni during a 3-day long OT(orientation), a large tented welcome event.

Needless to say, no one remembers much from those three days, except that they had a blast.

Strong bonds are formed at night that are awkwardly forgotten the next day.

After graduation, things just pick up steam. It’s socially acceptable to show up to work hungover after a hweshik(회식) or office gathering, because your boss is doing the same.

I’ve never met an alcoholic in Korea, but I sure met a lot of “heavy drinkers”.

This focus on social imbibing combined with the high-spirited nature of Koreans make their drinking games the most fun you can have while destroying your liver.

Quick Notes:

Koreans spend a lot of their youth becoming human calculators, while people from other countries play Nintendo and watch Yo MTV Raps. I strongly advise against any game involving numbers.

Koreans also play rock paper scissors(가위, 바위, 보) as a sport from a young age and will most likely beat you.

If you’d like to simulate the experience, simply stay up late and play an online game against someone with Hangeul in their username. Except make sure to drink every time you lose.

Let’s just hope that they don’t turn e-sports into a drinking game, because they would eventually conquer the world.

Korean Drinking Game_Makgeolli
Some delicious Jeon(savory pancake) that is paired with bam makgeolli(chestnut rice wine)

Vinyl Game(레코드판 게임)

Why wait for the Noraebang? Now you can embarrass yourself in a more socially awkward situation while the night is young.

One person starts by calling out a singer’s name.

Then, everyone takes turns singing one verse from any of their songs. The first person to mess up drinks!

A great way to break the ice by ramming into it head first.

Attendance Game(출석부 게임)

What’s more fun than taking attendance? Doing it with alcohol and some shenanigans, that’s what.

One person points at another but says someone else’s name. Whoever gets called has to yell, “here” and raise their hand. Then do the same thing next.

Whoever misses their cue, drinks.

Things get really fun when the speed increases until it’s hard to keep up.


This one’s for the dozens of people who want a vocabulary lesson while drinking. Think scrabble with alcohol consumption and awkward physical contact.

Hunminjeongeum is not just a ridiculously long word, it’s also the document that King Sejong created to introduce Hangeul to the masses.

In this game, one person calls out two random consonants while giving the thumbs up in the center of the group.

Then, players jump in calling out words that contain the two consonants, while grabbing the previous person’s thumb with theirs up, forming a chain.

For example:

One person says ㄱ ㅅ

Then calls out a word that contains both consonants like 고수, 감사, etc.

The last person to participate or anyone who messes up drinks.

This sounds easier than it is and we recommend a dumbed-down version in English using just one consonant.

Spoon Game(숟가락뒤집기)

This one is perfect for slower groups (you know who you are).

There are many variations of this game. The object is to flip a spoon while ending up in the majority of flipped or non-flipped.

Everyone sits in a circle with a spoon in front of them.

Then, they either flip their spoon or leave it the way it is after counting down from 3. The person who is in the minority group has to drink.

Another way to play is with rock paper scissors for three rounds with the losers having to flip their spoons.

Needless to say, there will be a whole lot of drinking going on.

The Commie Game(공산당 게임)

This one’s perfect for those unsophisticated types who want less thinking and more drinking.

The rules couldn’t be simpler. One person chooses a comrade, and that person points to the person they want to drink.

Very un-PC but gets the night going quickly.

Koreans take their drinking seriously

Babo Game

Babo (바보) is a friendly way to say “fool” in Korean. Children often refer to each other this way, and it’s usually not intended to offend.

It makes sense that a game based on this common slang word would emerge.  

One player begins by saying a number from 1 to 5 while showing a different number with their hand.

For example: The first player says 1 but has 3 fingers up making him/her safe. Then the next person has to say the number of fingers the previous player has up, while having a different amount in their hand and so on.

You lose if you say the same number as fingers you have or you don’t say the number of fingers the previous player had up.

This may sound easy, but in the heat of the moment with alcohol involved, it’s not hard to mess up.


Noonchi (눈치) is a very useful term in Korean that means the subtle ability to listen and gauge others’ moods. An English equivalent would be emotional intelligence.

The point of this game is to not be the last person to shout a number.

If there are five players, then each person must call out a number from 1 to 5.

Whoever shouts doesn’t matter, but the numbers must be said in order.

If two people shout the same number at the same time, they both drink and the game restarts. Or the last person who shouts a number must drink and the game starts over.

This requires you to read body language and see if someone is about to speak.

Pro Tip:

As the games heat up and people get a few drinks in them, it’s not uncommon for the group to start chanting, “random game”, followed by someone’s name to let them choose the game they want.

For example it would go:

“Random Game ♪ Random Game~ ______(이)가 좋아하는 랜덤 게임” (___’s favorite random game~)”

It’s possible to cheat a bit by calling out “noonchi game” followed by 1 quickly.

This will save you from drinking, for a moment.


This game is simple to learn, but lots of fun.

The object is to say the numbers out loud starting from 1 but you must clap instead of saying a number that has a 3, 6, or 9.

So if the person before you says 8, you would clap once for 9. But, if it’s my turn and the number is 39, I would have to clap twice.

Whoever ends up saying 3, 6, or 9 must drink! Then it goes back to 1 and starts over again.

Don’t worry though, numbers rarely go that high given the amount of alcohol involved.

To make things more interesting, there is a version where even numbers divisible by 3, 6, or 9 cannot be said either.

Drunk division is never a pretty sight, and I strongly recommend not trying this version with a group of Koreans.

Baskin Robbins 31

This game is pretty straightforward, and no, it wasn’t created by the brand.

However, it often works on a subliminal level to make Koreans crave Baskin Robbins after playing, so chalk this up as a win for their marketing department.

Basically, all you have to do is take turns saying up to 3 numbers in succession until you get to 31.

Whoever says 31 has to do a shot. It requires a little forethought, especially the closer you get to 31.

It’s also possible to coordinate with the group to choose who drinks.

You can even form a secret alliance and take someone down.

Korean Drinking Game_Beer
Some delicious abalone porridge(jeonbok-juk) that is perfect with beer(maekju).

The Black Knight

Not a game per se, but a special move in the sophisticated art of Korean drinking.

After a few of these games, it becomes quite clear who can hang in terms of alcohol tolerance, i.e. who will get ahead in Korean society.

If you are a team player (or like the person who just lost) you can take a bullet for someone with a lower tolerance by being the 흑기사 (black knight). This simply means you drink in their stead.

In return, the black knight gets a wish from the person. This usually is something light like, “let’s get Baskin Robbins together” or “go buy us some soft drinks”. So get your mind out of the gutter!

Titanic/The submarine

This one has less to do with the movie and more to do with physics.

It’s kind of like a game of chicken with alcohol and gravity.

Sit with your friends in a circle around a table.

Fill a glass halfway with beer.

Carefully drop an empty soju glass in the beer, making sure it floats!

Take turns pouring alcohol into the shot glass.

The amount you pour depends on you, but whoever sinks the “Titanic” needs to drink the whole glass.

DongdongJu, a traditional rice wine that goes great with jeon, or savory pancake

Love You

This one doesn’t involve math thankfully, and is great fun.

Sit in a circle of friends with drinks in hand.

The object of the game is simply not to laugh.

Anyone who does has to drink.

The first person turns to the person on the left and says “I love you” followed by any word they can think of.

If they don’t laugh, you turn to the person on your right and try again.

As you can imagine, this one can go from playful to dirty very quickly as the night goes on.

Napkin, Beer, Cigarette

This one involves pyrotechnics and might be frowned upon in some countries.

You start by placing a napkin over a beer mug.

Then put a 100 or 500 won coin(feel free to substitute with whatever currency is available) on top.

Players take turns burning holes into the napkin with a lit cigarette.

Whoever drops the coin into the mug must drink.

I personally have never played this one, since it seems like things would get out of hand quickly.

The Bottle Cap(병뚜껑 게임)

My personal favorite, because it’s the one I had the best chance at winning.

This is probably because it was the simplest one. It’s also a two-parter, which just adds to the drama.

Take a soju cap, stuff it with a napkin (more on this later) and twist the loose metal part until it’s straight (without pulling it off the cap).

Then you flick the dangling piece with your finger.

Pass the cap around until someone breaks it.

Whoever flicks it off makes everyone else drink.

Up and Down

After you finish flicking around the bottle cap, there’s a brand-new game you can play with that same cap!

Who knew that one bottle cap could be so much fun?

Remember the napkin you stuffed into the cap? This is where it comes into play.

The sequel is started by the person who won the first game (the one who didn’t have to drink).

They remove the napkin in the bottle cap and look at the number inside.

He/she announces two numbers, the range in which the number in the bottle cap lies.

For example, if the number is 35, they would say 1-50.

The other players start guessing the number, while the one with the cap hints if it’s higher or lower.

Whoever guesses right is safe (so no shots for them), but the players to the left and right have to drink!

Gyeongma Game(경마게임)/ Horse track game

This one involves some sound effects and intense concentration.

The entire game is played with everyone drumming on the table with their hands to simulate the sound of horses racing on a track.

First, everyone around the table calls out their “horse number.”

Horse number 1 (일번말), horse number 2 (이번말), horse number 3 (삼번말), etc.

After each person gets a horse number, the game starts.

You take turns calling out your number and then the number of the person you want to “attack”.

Horse 1 starts it off and let’s say they attack 3 by saying, “일번에 삼번”, or 1 attacks 3.

Then number 3 would call out their number first and “attack” someone else by calling out their number. “삼번에 오번”, 3 attacks 5.

It’s important to really listen carefully for your number to be called. If you slip up and miss your turn, you drink.

Like most games in Korea, this game is meant to be played FAST.

It gets really chaotic because everyone is banging on the table.

It’s also not uncommon for the same two people to go back and forth attacking each other.

Bunny Bunny(바니바니)

This one is a bit childish, but is fun at a certain age.

It involves some cute hand gestures and a massive amount of coordination.

You also need a minimum of 4 people to play.

Everyone puts both hands up like they’re eating while one person chants “Bunny Bunny” once.

Then without stopping, they “pass the bunny” to a random player by chanting “Bunny Bunny” and gesturing with both hands.

At the same time the players to the left and right of the selected person chant “Dang-geun Dang-geun(당근)” (carrot in Korean). The selected person immediately starts chanting “Bunny Bunny” and passes to another player to try to disrupt the chant.

Whoever messes up, drinks. This gets confusing real quick and probably should be played early in the night.

Pro Tip:

You can even pass the bunny to yourself as a wild card. This all but guarantees victory.

Soju, the drink of choice for most Koreans

Image Game

The Image Game is a reverse “Never Have I” game with voting.

Except in this case, if you get the most votes you lose (or win, if you enjoy taking shots!).

The first player starts by saying something descriptive, like: “Had most girlfriends/boyfriends”.

Everyone then points at the person they think best fits the description.

The player who receives the most votes has to drink, then gets to ask the next question.

This one can make you reevaluate your life choices by showing what people really think of you.


While sitting in a circle, one person starts by asking a question that refers to someone in the group.

The people playing must point their chopsticks at the person who they think best fits the answer.

The person with the most chopsticks pointed at him or her must drink and then gets to ask the next question.

So, basically the same as Image Game but with utensils.


This one is a simplified version of Simon with alcohol.

As the name implies, this game involves a lot of tapping with your drink on the table.

The first player starts by tapping their drink once, which passes the turn on to the player to their right.

The next player must then decide whether to tap their drink once, twice, or three times.

Tapping the drink once will pass the turn on to the person on the right.

Twice will pass the turn back to the sender to the left.

Three times will pass the turn to the second person the right, skipping the adjacent player.

Whoever messes up the tapping order, by tapping when they’re not supposed to, must drink.

It may sound easy, but each player must pay close attention to how many times the last drink was tapped on the table.

Olympic Torch

This game seems like something one would play in prison, but with pruno instead of soju.

Most Korean males pick up smoking during their mandatory military service.

A player passes around a lit cigarette with his head back and the cigarette up like a torch.

He passes the “torch” to the next player who takes a drag while trying not to topple the ash.

Whoever does must take a shot.

Pretty simple compared to the other games, but most likely won’t be popular in polite society.