Sliding boundaries

How the South Korean language was designed to unify (Ann Babe, BBC Travel, 18 December 2017)

Nothing in this article is new to me, but I still found it entertaining and thought-provoking to read. Perhaps the author’s self-reflection on her ‘in-between’ positionality resonated with me. Moreover, the article, especially the following passage, supports what I have long hypothesised.

There is no clear boundary between the word ‘I’ and the word ‘we’,” Choi writes in her book A Postcolonial Self. “As the usage of the words ‘we’ and ‘I’ are often interchangeable, so too is the identity of the ‘we’ often interchangeable with the identity of the ‘I.’ The meanings of ‘we’ and ‘I’ are negotiable not only in colloquial Korean usage but also in the consciousness and unconsciousness of Korean minds.”

In Korean there is this idiomatic expression of having a wide ojirap. Its literal reference is to the front flap of an upper garment, but what the expression actually means is that the person in question tends to get involved in other people’s affairs, for better or worse.

I am sure that every language on this planet has some sort of equivalent to a ‘busybody’ or a ‘nosy parker’. However, my hypothesis is that the Korean variant has its extra something, which is that the ‘ojirapper‘ genuinely thinks it is their own business when they are meddling in someone else’s, even if that someone else is a total stranger who happens to be in the same carriage of the train. To put it another way, in that momentary context, the boundaries slide, at least in the ojirapper‘s mind.

By the way, ojirap is an established word in the language; ojirapper, on the other hand, is a modern slang born and used principally online, and as you may have guessed already, its connotation is never positive.

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