“Korean Wave” Spurs Influx of Loanwords, OED says

We’re currently in the midst of a “Korean wave,” according to editors at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) — from Squid Game’s immense popularity to K-Pop groups like BTS and Blackpink topping the charts globally, it’s evident that South Korean pop culture is, well, popular in many places other than South Korea. And along with the abundant cultural and artistic exports comes something perhaps a little less expected: an influx of new vocabulary items into the English language.

“We are all riding the crest of the Korean wave, and this can be felt not only in film, music, or fashion, but also in our language, as evidenced by some of the words and phrases of Korean origin included in the latest update of the OED,” reads a recent blog post from the OED, breaking down the list of loanwords recently inaugurated into the dictionary.


According to OED, the global rise in prominence of South Korean pop culture has brought a large number of loanwords into the English language. Many of the words had already been used widely among English speakers for decades — for instance, “bulgogi,” the word for that sizzling hot, razor-thin cut of beef or pork served at KBBQs across the world, has been in use in English since at least 1958. Still, the recent increase in usage of these words has been so significant that the dictionary’s lexicographers have finally taken to adding entries for these words in the latest update.

The words recently added into the dictionary include words from a wide variety of concepts, from food (examples include the aforementioned “bulgogi,” as well as “banchan,” “galbi,” and “kimbap,” among others) to literature (take, for instance, the word “manhwa” — a cognate of the surely familiar Japanese word “manga”) and many others. The new entries also include a handful of interjections, a class of words that are not commonly borrowed from other languages.

In addition to adding a host of new words derived from the Korean language into the dictionary, OED also updated the entries for many pre-existing Korean-derived words, like “kimchi,” “hangul,” and “taekwondo.” All in all, OED added 26 new entries and revised the entries for 11 words derived from Korean.

“The adoption and development of these Korean words in English also demonstrate how lexical innovation (in English) is no longer confined to the traditional centres of English in the United Kingdom and the United States,” the OED’s blog post reads. “They show how Asians in different parts of the continent invent and exchange words within their own local contexts, then introduce these words to the rest of the English-speaking world, thus allowing the Korean wave to continue to ripple on the sea of English words.”

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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