Swearing in a foreign language is the first step to fluency, they say.  Whether such a theory is valid or not, real Korean ladies and gentlemen from a good family are not supposed to swear under ANY circumstances.  In particular, swearing in a public space, such as your professional workplace, can almost always backfire at you and easily ruin your personal reputation in the Korean society, no matter what situation causes you to swear.  In general, “conservative” Koreans tend to be much more sensitive to spoken words than many other people I’ve met so far.  Evidently, it is not the wisest thing for a foreigner to utter a swear word towards the locals in Korea.  Or in any other country, for that matter.

Unfortunately in our long life, there are rare situations when you need to know basic swear words, even if you don’t say them.  

  1. When somebody swears at you for some reason, you should at least understand it, even if you don’t swear back at him or her.  Otherwise, you may be treated as a dumb person, or may even get into an unsafe situation.   
  1. When you witness an immensely unjust event that makes you angry, such as a brutal murder or a heinous war killing innocent civilians, committed by an evil person such as a war criminal.  In this case, you as a decent lady or gentleman might want to at least “think” those swear words repeatedly, so that the humanity as a whole can pour a collective curse, and literally condemn the evil.

Here are a few basic entry-level Korean invectives that you need to know in the two situations above.  I intentionally excluded some other vulgar expressions that are ubiquitous among high school kids or in today’s exaggerative K-dramas.  It is because most of you would blush like a wedding night if I begin to explain the etymological origins of those popular folksy Korean vulgarities, I am sure.  So it would be useless after all. 

DISCLAIMER: I take no responsibility for any fights, confrontations, or lawsuits you may get yourself into after reading this article.

  • 참 나쁜 사람  Such a bad person  [ This is not a swear word per se.   It is the mildest and gentlest way to express your anger or contempt for a bad person, albeit its undiplomatic straightforwardness.  Unlike the rest of the words below, this phrase may be spoken in public in appropriate situations, without hurting much of your personal style or reputation. ]
  • 나쁜 놈  Asshole! [ Bad boy.  Note that it is the word “놈” that makes this an insult.   Compare with the above “나쁜 사람.”  ]
  • 나쁜 년  Bitch!  [ Bad girl;  mostly spoken by a woman towards another woman.  A decent man is not supposed to say “년” to any woman. ]
  • 개새끼  Son of a bitch  [ Literally, 개 (dog) + 새끼 (suffix for any young animal).  Sometimes used jokingly between very close friends, such as childhood buddies, without hurting each other’s feelings, just as in English.  Do you also see the other similarity between Korean and English here?  Why do people use the name of man’s best friend as an insult? ^^ ]
  • 천벌 받을 놈  Burn in Hell!  [ = God punish him!  Literally, “the one who should receive heavenly punishment (천벌)!”   This sentence is probably the most severe curse word in Korean against an evil person who committed grave sins, such as murder or crime against humanity.  Without any vulgarity, this phrase is a serious curse, rather than just an angry insult.  ]

남의 눈에 피눈물 나게 하는 놈은 천벌 받는다. 

[Literally, “Anyone who makes bloody tears come out of another person’s eyes will be punished by heaven.”  == “Anyone who treats others unjustly and causes their wrath will ultimately receive divine punishment.” ]

 – A common Korean saying

Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio, contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur: tuque, Princeps militiae caelestis, in virtute Dei, in infernum detrude satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo. Amen.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safe guard against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world seeking for the ruin of souls. Amen.

 – Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel

그대는 나쁜 사람

You are a bad man 

모른 척 아닌 척 외면해도

Even though I look away, as if I didn’t know you 

자꾸만 내 눈에 밟히는 그런 사람

You are the guy I can’t get off my mind again and again 

그대는 참 나쁜 사람

You are such a bad man 

 – 장혜진/MC Sniper, “나쁜 사람 (A Bad Man)” from “신의 (Faith, 2012)”

이제 막 과장 달았는데 내가 가긴 어딜 가니?

I’ve just got promoted to manager.  Why would I go somewhere else?

야, 그럼 너 지금 여기서 나 이렇게 보는 거 안 불편하니?

Hey, don’t you feel uncomfortable seeing me around here like this?

아, 너는 나 불편하니?  

Ah, are you uncomfortable with me?

그럼 불편한 사람이 떠나, 니가 가라고 스위스 제네바로, 이 개새끼야!

Then the uncomfortable one should leave.  You go to Geneva, Switzerland, you son of a bitch!

너 앞으로 나 아는 척 하지마, 알겠어?

From now on, don’t even pretend to know me, got it?

 – 기상청 사람들 (Forecasting Love and Weather, 2022), Ep. 1 

네, 어서오세요…

Welcome to … 

홍주 어디있어?  내 동생 홍주 어딨어?

Where is Hong-ju?  Where is my sister Hong-ju?

홍주씨 여기 없습니다 

Hong-ju is not here 

이, 천벌을 받을 놈아! 

You, burn in Hell!

어떻게 감히 내 동생을 가까이 해? 

How dare you befriend my sister?

내 남편 죽여서 우리 불행하게 만들었으면 됐지, 

You killed my husband and made us miserable, and that’s not enough?

어떻게 내 동생까지 넘봐? 

How dare you make a pass at my sister?

니가 사람이야? 

Do you deserve to be called a man?

니가 인간이야?

Do you deserve to be human?

 – 하나뿐인 내편 (My Only One, 2018), Ep. 91 

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