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Korean slang guide gets revision

After nearly selling out of the first edition of Korean slang guide “As Much as a Rat’s Tail,” authors Peter Liptak and Lee Si-woo are working on an update.

The revision has ended up being more involved than planned, with 30 pages of new content, a set of new flashcards and revisions of the existing design and content.

They also held a contest for the design of the new cover. Replacing the timid rodent on the first edition is a sunglass-donning street rat, dancing “Gangnam Style.” 
An illustration for the second edition of ‘“As Much as a Rat’s Tail”
An illustration for the second edition of ‘“As Much as a Rat’s Tail”

“It just spoke to me about Korea, Korean culture and Korean slang,” said Liptak. “It’s a fun way to access the language because of the way that Psy affected the world.”

He said that fun was a key motivator behind choosing the expressions in the book, explaining that they selected those that were interesting, memorable and easy for learners of Korean to use.

“One of the biggest factors besides that it is hopefully recent and whatnot is the piquing of interest, like the title ‘Chwi Kkori Mankeum’ ― it’s not new but it is highly useable.”

As a situation in which you can use the expression ― which means “a measly amount” ― he gives the familiar example of taxi driver compliments, where foreigners’ ability to give a destination is often rewarded with a compliment on their Korean ability.

“By responding something different than a little bit ― chwi kkori mankeum ― I always get a laugh. So we are looking for that fun factor.”

He got the idea from the dearth of materials at the time that dealt with modern Korean and slang. And still, the main books that do exist are international guides that run largely to a template that is used across many different languages.

“I found that all of the books for studying Korean were really boring and dry, and none of them were fun at all. None of them were real language either. So I really thought it was necessary to put something out there. And it’s a fun way to learn.”

He said the main books on slang that do exist are international guides that don’t always have a natural feel in Korean.

“This is not a language book in the sense of something that will get you up and running in Korean, but it’s more of an add-on to learn some fun Korean after you’ve gotten started.”

While he has had some objections from Koreans wanting to “keep the language pure,” he said the general reaction to the book has been good.

“If I go to a coffee shop and meet some other foreigners, either they bought the book or know someone who bought the book,” he said. “But there’s always new foreigners coming into Korea already. And with the number of people taking the TOPIK test at 70,000 in April, that’s an awful lot of people.”

Liptak is running a Kickstarter to fund the project. You can find out more about the book and contribute at the “Korean Slang for Your Seoul” Kickstarter page.

By Paul Kerry (