Like or loathe political correctness, many everyday Korean terms are ripe for modernization.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes. Source, all screenshots: YouTube.
Similar to how over 60 percent of English words have Latin and Greek roots, over half of all Korean words are of Chinese origin. Once you realize this, learning Korean vocabulary becomes immeasurably easier. Buy this book in particular, which groups Korean words by their Chinese roots, and it’ll feel like all your Christmases have come at once:
From pages 78 & 102 of Miho Choo and William O’ Grady, Handbook of Korean Vocabulary: A Resource for Word Recognition and Comprehension, 1996.
You may become so grateful for all these new connections between words suddenly being revealed to you though, that it’s easy to overlook how problematic some of them may be. To many native speakers too, for whom the words are so familiar that they would have little cause to think twice about their origins.
One such Chinese derivative is “모/母“, as shown in my scan above-left. Clearly, it is apt for almost all of those examples of its usage given there, and a much better Korean-speaker than I points out that it even makes some sense for the seeming exception of “모음/vowel” too. Learn that it’s also contained in the absent “유모차” (pron. yoo-mo-cha) however, which means “stroller” (N. Am.) or “pushchair/buggy” (U.K.), and suddenly that ancient Chinese root really begins to feel its age.
This video suggests adopting a much more inclusive alternative:
In the first screenshot below, the top line says “stroller,” followed by the corresponding Chinese characters for “milk,” “mother,” and “vehicle.” (Possibly, “breastmilk” may be more appropriate for the first character?) Below those, a definition: “A wagon for carrying a child after it is born.”
These next two are self-explanatory:
“[Because of this], does ‘stroller’ have a sexually discriminatory meaning?”
“Does the person who pushes the stroller absolutely have to be the mother?”
“Other caregivers can push it, yet the meaning of ‘mother’ is still contained within the word. Does this imply the person responsible for childcare is the mother?”
“Let’s not focus on the person pushing the stroller, and focus on the child instead. Please call it ‘유아차’ (pron. yoo-a-cha).”
And FYI, here’s that Chinese character for “child,” from page 149 of The Handbook:
Anyone reading this far needs no reminding of Korea’s plummeting birthrates, or of the gendered stereotypes surrounding childcare that work against remedying those—a mere new word is no solution. But it is logical, inoffensive, easy to remember, and can’t help but work at least a little against those stereotypes. So why not use it?
Naturally then, the YouTube video has many more dislikes than likes. Its origins are suprisingly opaque for a public campaign too (“공공언이 바꾸기 캠페인,” or the “Campaign to change how we speak to other members of the community”) and for a long time my searches only brought screenshots of that video and of various others’ in the campaign, on sites of the sort where things are generally only posted to be ridiculed. The video does end with a note that the campaign was done in conjunction with the Seoul City Government however (or possibly “by”; “함께” can vary according to context sorry), and eventually I realized I’d be able to find the video and others on non-gendered, but still problematic words in the campaign on their website itself, which indeed were posted there in October and September 2018 respectively. But there was still no news or further information available.
With such abysmal promotion, frankly you have to wonder why the Seoul City Government even bothered making them.
But in the process of looking, I was reminded of the Gender Equality Week conducted by the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family conducted that July:
Which I’m happy to say did receive a lot of press. Quite possibly, the the Seoul City Government’s campaign was actually one of those efforts alluded to at the end of the press release above (but which didn’t get any mention on the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family’s website either!):
Either way, it was added to by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s awareness video in January this year. Possibly that explains the stroller video’s abrupt appearance on the MBC YouTube channel that same month (used in this post):
From my own experience, using gender-neutral words takes minimal effort, once you make the conscious decision to. That said, I do understand the laziness in not doing so, and the resistance against being told what to do. If you meet such a person then, perhaps start by asking them, say, why “uterus” should be “자궁” (pron. ja-goong) which literally means “子宮/house for a son,” instead of the suggested “포궁” (pron. po-goong), which means ” 細宮/house for a cell/baby.” Once they realize how much work defending that absurdity would be, then surely they’ll realize all the other sexist, archaic words aren’t really worth the effort either!
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If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)
2 thoughts on “The Korean Word for “Stroller” is Literally “Milk-MOTHER-Vehicle.” Let’s Start Using This New Term That Includes Fathers Too.”
While I know that we don’t align politically when it comes to feminism. I think that we both see a declining birth rate in Korea as a problem. However, I don’t see how having gender neutral language is going to increase the status of women in society. First, when it comes to having babies only woman can grow a fetus/person inside them until it can survive in the outside world. Also, woman have a natural ability to feed said kid for the first year or two when it is outside(breastmilk). Yes, Korean men, and men in general should help more, and yes there is formula. Second, women in western societies have very high standing, yet there birth rates are low as well. You could also look at the opposite case of Saudi Arabia where women have very few rights but birth rates are very high. It would seem to be if you want to have higher birth rates you should take away women’s rights to do anything and that would solve it.
However, if you are completely unconcerned with the birth rate and only with women’s rights to be equal you should just be promoting equality. Women’s rights in third and fourth wave feminism is just special treatment and has nothing to do with equality. This would just make it the opposite side of the coin of misogyny; instead of treating women as inferiors because they are different you treat them as a special class because they are different. Which would never bring about equality.
Thank you for your comment Cameron, but I’m afraid I can’t really follow most of it.
In your first paragraph, you say you “don’t see how having gender neutral language is going to increase the status of women in society”, then mention women’s physiological burden of pregnancy and breastfeeding. What’s the connection? Are you implying gender-inequality is to an extent natural, so using gender neutral language would be a waste of time? Either way, if you admit that “Korean men, and men in general should help more” with childcare, then what’s the harm in avoiding using language that implies that it’s primarily women’s job?
Next, taking away women’s rights for the sake of increasing the birthrate is a bad thing and obviously not going to happen, so…I’ve no idea why you mentioned that, TBH. Using gender-neutral language would be an increase in their status, hence mean less children? Is that seriously your point? Is that the harm gender-neutral language would inflict?
Finally, I don’t accept your characterizations of feminism whatsoever:
Beyond a few radical and/or seperatist feminists, you’d be hard-pressed to find a feminist who didn’t think feminism was all about promoting sexual equality. So again, what’s your point?
Even if I did agree with that gross mischaracterization of third and fourth wave feminism, how is it evidence of anything in particular, or adds to — or frankly is even related whatsoever — to using gender-neutral language?
Sorry if I’ve sounded dismissive of your comment. But while it’s completely fine to have different opinions about feminism on my blog, if you know our opinions differ so much from the outset then you can’t just forge ahead regardless and present your opinions as if they were agreed-upon facts. Rather, please state your arguments more clearly and present actual evidence next time, which would go much further towards changing my mind!