SEOUL, June 4 (Korea Bizwire) – “Gon-choong” means insect in Korean. “Gisaeng-choong” translates into parasite. “Hae-choong” describes harmful insects.
As such, ‘choong’ is a word that refers to bugs and insects in general. But its use has expanded to refer to various social groups in Korea, often to degrade, abase, and insult.
According to Daumsoft, a big data based AI institute, the use of words that include ‘choong’ is rapidly expanding. Researchers analyzed over 700 million blog posts and 9.2 billion tweets from January 2011 to May 2016 to arrive at their conclusion.
Mom-choong refers to mothers who only care for their children with no respect for others, and hannam-choong refers to extremely patriarchal Korean men who are often misogynic (hannam is an abbreviation for hankook namja – Korean men). On the face of it perhaps, these extremists deserve such humiliation. As far as one knows, they’re social outsiders who are self-centered and self-righteous.
But the issue here is not to tackle some immature derisions – it’s the fact that these choongs, or insects, are being bandied about promiscuously and ambiguously as a means of discrimination and segregation. Online communities are rampant with the use of the terms, insulting mothers, men, women, students, and even children and the elderly.
Elementary, middle, and high school students are being called geupsik-choong (geupsik – school lunch), and elderly are being called teulnee-choong (teulnee – dentures) or noin-choong (noin – eldery). Megal-choong, which was once used to degrade users of the women’s online community, Megalian, is now used as an insult to slander women in general.
The first use of choong came from Ilbe-choong to insult members of the Ilbe online community. Ilbe is a radical right-wing community that has been criticized for its far-fetched conservative perspectives and often misogynic viewpoints.
The term Ilbe-choong, according to Daumsoft, was used over 850,000 times since 2011. Hannam-choong, on the other hand, was used over 240,000 times, despite its more recent appearance in 2015, while mom-choong was used almost 70,000 times since 2015.
Experts note that it’s almost a pathological phenomenon. The many ‘choongs’ are seldom the weak or the minorities in society. And such references are shamelessly and extensively being used as a means of creating further conflict and hatred.
“Prolonged social competition, and the prevailing idea of society’s ranking system are creating a trend where people look down on those that they deem inferior,” explains professor Kim Yun-tae from Korea University’s Department of Sociology.
The bigger problem, however, is that such terms are used to create further conflict between larger social groups, namely between men and women.
Just two weeks ago, a woman was stabbed to death by a male stranger in Gangnam, one of the most crowded areas of Seoul. The police investigation concluded that the suspect was suffering from a mental illness, and that they had no grounds to call it a hate crime.
But the majority of the public disagrees, and tension between men and women is higher than ever, with a large number of women arguing that the tragedy was a result of Korea’s misogynistic social atmosphere.
The use of the sexist terms like hannam-choong and megal-choong is becoming more prevalent, and those making use of the terms are becoming increasingly aggressive with the growing conflict.
The overuse of insults has reached a point where people are demanding that legal measures be taken.
Just last month, Seoul Northern District Court rendered a guilty verdict in the case of a 37-year-old man who called the writer of an online post an Ilbe-choong. He was fined 500,000 won and given a suspended sentence.
The court noted that the word ‘choong’ has a strong negative connotation, and to address a member of Ilbe as an Ilbe-choong devalues one’s personality and character.
So far, there has not been any punishment meted out for the use of choong other than Ilbe-choong. But considering the rate at which other ‘choong’ words are being used, it won’t be long until the courts are overflowing with defamation cases.
“Unlike fast-changing technology, changes in culture and perspectives occur at a much slower rate,” says professor Kim. “There’s a strong educational need to promote social harmony.”
Ironically you’ll rarely hear somebody say the offensive terms out loud in a real-life conversation. It’s an unnerving thought to look at someone so mundane and think that he or she may be calling you an insect in the virtual world. Language often projects the community and its members’ deeper emotions. If this is true, the popularity of choong may just be a somber self-portrait of Korea’s hate-filled society.
By Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)