The Korea Herald


[Words to know] What it means to 'chew' messages

Essential terminology for communication on S. Korea's ubiquitous messenger app, KakaoTalk

By No Kyung-min

Published : May 14, 2024 - 15:36

    • Link copied

(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Since the advent of the smartphone era, KakaoTalk -- which Koreans commonly shorten to “katalk” -- has become the go-to form of digital communication among Koreans, eclipsing conventional text messaging.

The nation’s No. 1 messenger app remains unchallenged here, even amid the proliferation of messenger platforms, each offering slightly different communication functions.

Explanations of commonly used terms on KakaoTalk, often abbreviated for swifter messaging, along with relevant etiquette, are provided here to familiarize newcomers with Korea's messaging culture.

‘Talk’ in ‘bang’

There are two essential terms before we begin to discuss KakaoTalk terminology.

Due to the dominance of KakaoTalk as a means for messaging, the English word, "talk," has been transformed to convey the meaning of “send a message via KakaoTalk" or a KakaoTalk message itself. You can use expressions like "give talk" or "do talk" to say, “Contact me via KakaoTalk.”

Another term to remember is “bang,” the Korean word for “room,” which is widely used to refer not only to a room in a house but also to various spaces and business establishments in Korea. When used in relation to KakaoTalk, "bang" refers to a chatroom.

The most common chatroom where one-to-one communication takes place is the "gaein” talk bang, with gaein meaning "individual" in Korean. A chatroom involving a group of people is called a “danchae” talk bang.

For both terms, abbreviations are widely used: “gaen talk bang” and “dan talk bang.”

A typical Korean person would likely be part of multiple "dan talk bang," formed for various purposes such as facilitating smooth work communications among coworkers, connecting with friends and family, or bonding with other individuals who share common interests, such as having the same illness or living in the same apartment complex.

For those who may wish to tidy up chatrooms that they don't typically engage with or don't want to receive message notifications from, they can group these chatrooms into "a silent chatroom."

What it means to 'chew' messages

In a scenario where one receives a message but opts not to respond, the slang term “ssipda,” which literally means "to chew," is widely used. It means to ignore the message.

Usage examples may include, “My ex-boyfriend 'katalked' me last night, but I just chewed his message.”

From this slang term derives a very important expression "ikssip," which specifically refers to a situation in which a person receives a message, checks it (as indicated by the disappearance of the "unread" notification), but does not respond.

In romantic relationships, this behavior often equates to the act of ghosting.

"Intentional chewing can indeed convey underlying feelings of resentment within a romantic relationship," according to Jeon Min-hong, 26. "However, its significance amplifies in the context of a budding relationship, like after a blind date, insinuating rejection by one party."

In more formal communications, such as work-related interactions, this behavior could be seen as rude or disrespectful, especially if it is clear that the conversation has not concluded. Still, those who have been in the organization longer or have a higher position for various reasons may feel more at ease to do so.

Nowadays, many people receive new messages through notifications, which means they don't necessarily have to open the app and check the chatroom, thus avoiding affecting the message's read or unread status. This gives users the option of avoiding the "ikssip" situation when they don't feel like responding immediately. It allows them to offer excuses such as "Sorry, I just saw your message" or "I was busy doing something and didn't check the message."

(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Beyond casual ‘talk’

Using KakaoTalk as Korea's default messenger since it was introduced here in 2010 has become ingrained in digital communication culture, to the extent that many rely on its familiarity even in formal settings such as workplaces.

Hence, it's crucial to be aware of digital etiquette to avoid coming across as impolite.

In a chatroom with a superior at work or an older person, it's advised not to rely solely on Korean letters such as "ㅇ” or “ㅇㅇ” which are abbreviated forms of "eung" (yes). Other examples include using “ㅇㅋ" as the Korean version of the English word "OK."

In addition to the sole use of Korean letters, it's important to be cautious when using emoticons on KakaoTalk. Many of these emojis feature humorous depictions of famous celebrities and characters, serving to not only lighten the mood of a conversation but also effectively convey emotional information. However, they may not be perfectly suited for formal or serious environments.

While in more casual contexts people often react to messages by tagging small emojis like hearts, thumbs-ups or smiles to signal message acknowledgment, in formal settings, the safest bet is to respond with "ne" or "nep," a polite way of expressing "yes" in Korean.

For individuals seeking to maintain a clear distinction between their private and public lives within the intricate network of social relationships, KakaoTalk has a multiprofile function. This feature allows users to create up to four separate profiles, each tailored for different groups of people.

Messenger app KakaoTalk (Kakao Corp) Messenger app KakaoTalk (Kakao Corp)