The Seven Levels of Korean Aegyo

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Korean Aegyo (애교) is basically when somebody acts in a cute or childish way, despite not being a young child themselves. This can take many forms, from how people speak and act, to how they dress or decorate their room. The reason for acting cute is to try and flirt with or impress somebody, or to get something that you want. If you are impressed by somebody’s aegyo, then you can say ‘gyiyowoyo (귀여워요)’ which means ‘cute’ in Korean (dictionary form: 귀엽다).

Korean Aegyo (애교) is basically when somebody acts in a cute or childish way, despite not being a young child themselves. This can take many forms, from how people speak and act, to how they dress or decorate their room. The reason for acting cute is to try and flirt with or impress somebody, or to get something that you want. If you are impressed by somebody’s aegyo, then you can say ‘gyiyowoyo (귀여워요)’ which means ‘cute’ in Korean (dictionary form: 귀엽다).

She is excited about Korean aegyo

She thinks Korean aegyo is 귀여워요

Korean Aegyo is generally performed by women although some more feminine guys might use it too from time to time. If a regular guy uses this then you may feel uncomfortable and get daksal (닭살) which means ‘goosebumps’ and is used in Korean when somebody is weirding you out. Of course, most people don’t use it in an extreme way, and quite a lot of people really hate it. The more ridiculous examples of aegyo can often be found in Korean dramas or on comedy shows. Those examples are very different from how people might use it in real life, just as Korean dramas themselves aren’t a particularly accurate portrayal of Korea (otherwise we would all be living in the one authentic hanok available to rent in the whole of Seoul or one room apartment overlooking the Doota shopping mall, but dating a chaebol heir/heiress with a secret past and whose evil mother hates us).

The word Aegyo is often used with the word bulida (부리다) to make aegyo bulida (애교 부리다). This means ‘to act in an aegyo way’. There are different levels of aegyo, with some things being used by lots of people and generally accepted as reasonable behavior in public. Take a look at the seven levels below and let us know which levels you think are appropriate to use on a date, and which levels should be left to Korean dramas and gag shows.

Level One Aegyo

Stretching the final vowel of a word

If a word ends in a vowel, then this vowel can be stretched to sound cuter (or whiny depending on your perspective, this guy in particular hates it [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMCnEpeyTS0]). The word ‘oppa (오빠)’ is a good example of this. (For those not familiar with ‘oppa’, it literally means ‘older brother’ is used by girls to refer to a guy who is a little bit older than them). As lots of guys like being called ‘oppa’, saying this word in a cute manner has more effect than other words might (sorry guys, I don’t think saying ‘noona (누나)’ in this way will have quite the same effect).

Level Two Aegyo

Extra ‘ㅁ’s and ‘ㅇ’s

In English it is very hard to show some features of the language, such as sarcasm, when sending a text message or email. In Korea, if you want to express your aegyo in a text message, then rather than adding umpteen extra vowels and wavy line symbols at the end of every word that ends in a vowel, people add the letters ‘m’ or ‘ng’, for example ‘oppang (오빵)’, ‘baegopang (배 고팡)’ etc. This can drive you mad if you are using a dictionary to translate somebody’s text messages. The ‘yo (요)’ at the end of many Korean sentences is also often written as ‘yong (용)’ when people are using this sort of aegyo. Texting in this manner is not uncommon, but some people take it a step further, adding these extra consonants (자음) when speaking.

Level Three Aegyo

Using basic hand gestures

This is when someone uses their hands to make cute symbols like a heart or ‘v’ sign (The Korean ‘V’, not the English ‘V’) in situations outside of having their photograph taken (where even ajjoshis (older Korean men) can be seen making the ‘V’ sign on occasions). The hands can also be used to accentuate the face by creating mock dimples or a ‘V’ shaped chin. Watch the hand gestures in ‘Gee’  if you want to learn some new aegyo hand gestures. Pouting is also included in this level of Korean Aegyo.

Level Four Aegyo

Wearing Lotteworld hairbands outside of Lotteworld

Everybody in Korea knows Lotteworld, the indoor amusement park near Jamsil Station that is open all year round. Many people have dates there and a very popular item on sale there are animal ear hairbands. They look cute and you will see lots of people wearing these around Lotteworld. Whilst wearing these inside Lotteworld is of course aegyo too, it is a generally accepted thing to do, after all, you are in a world with fairies and pirates so why not wear leopard print (호피무늬) cat’s ears? Wearing these in public is not a common thing to do however.

Level Five Aegyo

Full on body movement

Similar to level three, but with the whole body being used, including foot stomps and noises to go with the gestures. By this stage, we are definitely entering TV drama territory, and some readers may wish to tell whoever they are with to stop acting in this way. One way of doing that is to use the verb ‘척하다’ which is similar to ‘pretend’ i.e. gwiyowoon chokhada (귀여운 척하다) – to pretend to be cute; or yeppun chokhada (예쁜 척하다), to pretend to be pretty. If someone’s aegyo is getting on your nerves, then you might want to say ‘kwiyowoon chokhaji maseyo (귀여운 척하지 마세요)’ (stop pretending to be cute).

Level Six Aegyo

Bbuing Bbuing (뿌잉 뿌잉)

Although this is a hand gesture, it is so closely associated with Korean aegyo, and especially the more ridiculous aegyo that you see on Korean gag shows, that it needs its own level. There are several long running jokes on Korean comedy shows which involve very un-cute actors doing the ‘bbuing bbuing’.

Level Seven Aegyo

Choosing to sing this song in a noraebang

This song pretty much sums up Korean aegyo. Watch this video to see some more hand gestures associated with aegyo.

VIEWER WARNING: this song will get stuck in your head so if you really don’t like aegyo, don’t watch this video!

 

Of course most people don’t use a lot of these later examples seriously except for on TV or in dramas, but the first few levels are used quite regularly. Which level of Aegyo would you use with your partner, and which levels do you think are unacceptable in public?



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