Human beings are an animal of vanity.  When it comes to linguistic skills, some people act like speaking faster than others is the measure of their own little intelligence.  They constantly interrupt others, which would be a huge mistake in the long run.  Others surreptitiously brag about how many languages they can “speak.”  But if you lived in Korea, you would soon realize that the most important thing in speaking Korean is to know how to use honorifics (respectful words) correctly and appropriately, so that your interlocutor can immediately “feel” respect from you and listens to you, and understands that you know at least some social code in Korea.  That way, he or she empathizes and agrees with you, or even follows your lead.  And that way, you get what you want from the conversation in the first place. 

Honorific verbs in Korean are often oversimplified.  Some of you may already know that adding “-시” right after a verb stem makes it sound respectful.  But that is not the whole story.  Some Korean verbs have totally different honorific forms, so you might as well treat them as separate verbs.  You should use them when you speak to a senior person, your boss or clients, elders in your family, or anyone who has a bigger social power than you and can gravely affect the quality of your social, professional life in one way or another.  A few examples: 

자다 to sleep => 주무시다 

  • 자요! Sleep well! [ Good night! ] => 안녕히 주무세요

주다 to give => 드리다 

  • 당신에게 드릴 게 없어서, 나의 마음을 드려요 As I have nothing to give you, my Love, I give you my heart [ 아이유 IU, “마음을 드려요 (I Give You My Heart)” from “Crash Landing on You (2019)” OST;  Please note that it would not make much sense in Korean if IU used “주다” instead of “드리다” here and sang “당신에게 줄 게 없어서 나의 마음를 줄게요.”  It would lack the commonly expected respect in a romantic relationship, or would make you sound like a six-year-old child, at best. ]

먹다 to eat => 드시다 

  • 많이 먹어!  Eat a lot! [i.e., “Enjoy your meal!” ] => 많이 드세요! = 맛있게 드세요! [ Bon appétit !  (In a restaurant or when you invite a guest) ]

배고프다 to be hungry => 시장하시다 

  • 배고프니?  Are you hungry? => 어머님, 시장하세요? 

있다 to be, to exist => 계시다 

  • 여기서 기다리고 있어 Wait here!  => 여기서 기다기고 계세요 Wait here, Sir/Ma’am.
  • 이거 보고 있니? Are you watching this? => 이거 보고 계십니까, 아버님?  Are you watching this, father? 

One of the recent trends I noticed about K-dramas is that the writers try to combine two separate sub-genres into one drama, which often times requires joining two distinct character roles played by one actor or actress.  I can easily name a couple of them: an on-going “Doctor Lawyer (2022)” combining traditional legal/court and medical dramas, or another on-going “Insider (2022)” which synthetically constructs a gambler thriller against the backdrop of a prison so far.   But well before all of them appeared on screen, a masterfully creative horror-historical period drama Kingdom (2019) already made a worldwide success in melting two distinct genres into one.  As far as I know, it is the first zombie horror genre combined with a historical period genre.  Even Korean viewers, naturally familiar with the backdrop of those exotic palaces and the atmosphere of the bygone times, are easily amazed by the dramatic plot and the scale of this horror drama, and undeniably scared by sheer eeriness of the presentation.  How scary would it be to most of our members, who may not have been to those unfamiliar, otherworldly old palaces and mesmerizing myriads of narrow alleys, shot at night on the strange land of morning calm? I can only imagine. ^^ 

One of the famous scenes in its final episode shows how the evil queen utters her last words towards her father before she is killed by zombies.  If she said “보고 있습니까, 아버님?” instead of “보고 계십니까, 아버님?” it would not make any sense in Korean.  “아버님,” which is the superlative respectful word for “father,” must go with the honorific verb 계시다.  In Korea, concordance of register using this type of honorifics gives pretty much the first impression of how well you speak the language.  It’s not how fast you speak, or how much you say.  What matters is not you as a speaker, but the person who listens to you.  After all, your listener will most likely stay the same as before, and any unmistakable disrespect he or she perceives about you may recoil.  It’s just the way it is in Korean.  

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