Sunday, October 18, 2015

Them Fighting Koreans

Dear Korean,

How did the Korean expression "Fighting!" get so popular? I am curious to know whether or not it was first used by a very influential person, came from a popular Korean series or used for some sort of political propaganda to encourage Koreans to think positive.

Li San


That would have been a heck of a story, but it doesn't look that way.

Sample Korean usage of "Fighting"
(source)

First of all, the definition of the term first. "Fighting" is one of the most classic Konglish words: a borrowed word from English that barely makes sense. Koreans use the word to signify positive encouragement, like "Let's go!" or "Way to go!" 

To be sure, the use of the word "fight" in this context is not completely ridiculous, since there are some occasions when the English language use of the word is at least somewhat close. For example, the refrain for "Texas Fight," the official fight song for the University of Texas Longhorns, goes: "Yea Orange! Yea White! Yea Longhorns! Fight! Fight! Fight! Texas fight, Texas fight, yea Texas fight!" But of course, no Anglophone would yell "fighting," and it is not very clear how Koreans came to say "fighting." 

The popular theory is that the Japanese are fond of saying "huaito" (Japanese pronunciation of "fight",) and the term migrated to Korea in an even more ungrammatical manner. TK's own theory is slightly different: based on the historical usage of the term, "fighting" is more likely a contraction of "fighting spirit." For example, an article from Dong-A Ilbo from September 5, 1926 carried an interview with a baseball umpire who oversaw a baseball tournament. In the interview, the umpire lamented that some of the teams lacked the "fighting spirit" [파이팅 스피리트]. Throughout the early 20th century, Korean newspapers spoke of the "fighting spirit," usually in reference to sporting events. 

Then around 1960s, Korean newspapers could be seen dropping the latter part of the phrase (i.e. "spirit",) and began using "fighting" as a shorthand for "fighting spirit." For example, an article from Kyunghyang Shinmun from September 21, 1962 speaks of a Thai youth soccer team that visited Korea to play Korea's youth team. The article describes the match:
Both the visiting Thai team and the Korean team are youth teams. However, as they are made up of players who are younger than 20 years old, their intensity and skill level are comparable to adult players. Indeed, in terms of stamina and fighting, a match of vigor that cannot be seen in adult matches is expected. As both teams include three to four players who are of the national team caliber, soccer fans are taking note.
(TK's emphasis). It appears that the word "fighting," by early 1960s, came to mean something similar to "enthusiasm" in Korea. Around the same time, Korean people can be seen using "fighting" as a cheering slogan

Korean people are fully aware that "fighting" does not actually make sense in English. In 2004, the National Institute of Korean Language attempted to push people away from using the word that makes no sense, suggesting the exclamation "aja" as a replacement. That campaign failed completely, like many other ham-fisted efforts by the Korean government to change the national culture from the top down. Although "aja" is (and has always been) commonly used, "fighting" is very much alive in everyday Korean parlance, and it's not about to go away any time soon.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

11 comments:

  1. TK, how long did it take you to find those newspaper articles?

    The push for 'aja' as a replacement for 'fighting' in 2004 reminded me that the series Full House came out in that year. In the series one character always says the word 'fighting' while another prefers 'aja aja'. They compromise and combine both terms and they became a sort of repeated catch phrase. I wonder if it was included because it was just topical at the time.

    Incidentally, I'm sure Full House introduced both 'fighting' and 'Aja' into many non-Korean vocabularies as the popularity of the series ballooned in Asia and the rest of the world.

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  2. During the 2002 World Cup, a couple of young Koreans were shown on tv holding a banner that said, "Korea ~ Whiting!"

    I knew right away that they had taken the word written "화이팅" in Hangul and transliterated it as "whiting." I had to chuckle thinking "Korea ~ Fighting!" is already a peculiar sounding expression to non-Korean speakers, so "Korea - Whiting!" must truly have them scratching their heads.

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    Replies
    1. I've wondered why the 화이팅 spelling seems to have the upper hand over 파이팅. Is the Japanese "huaito" influence possibly responsible for this? ㅍ seems to be the more common 'F' transliteration in other contexts I've seen.

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    2. Hoping they'd blank the opposition?

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    3. I agree with Josh. It seems to show the influence of the word from Japanese.

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    4. I agree with Josh. It seems to show the influence of the word from Japanese.

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    5. ㅎ was primarily used for 'F' sounds just a few decades ago.

      Examples: fine (화인), fantasy (환타지), family mart (훼미리마트), fanta (환타).

      Not sure why or exactly when they switched to using ㅍ.

      The Japanese also use their 'H' (フォ) to pronounce 'F' sounds so the fact that hwaiting/huaito both starts with 'H' doesn't really mean anything.

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  3. This is random, but can you please translate this for me!! Google translate isn't the most accurate :P 잘지내려무나. ㅋㅋㅋ많이 친해지면 좋겠다! 좋은 밤 되길!!

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    Replies
    1. You may want to try the website HiNative- it's made specifically for asking for translations and such. Unlike the commenting section of blog posts.

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  4. That was interesting. It is an essential staple in Korean cooking but I recently noticed the gochujang that is commonly available in the red tub contains corn syrup as main ingredient, unfortunately.

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