Korean slang can be fun to learn. Actually, learning the slang words of any language can be fun because you get an insight into how languages are constantly evolving with new words and meanings. It can also make you a little knowledgeable and “hip” if you know a lot of them.
One of the most commonly heard slang words in Korean is daebak (대박). So what does this slang word mean?
The basic meaning for this word is awesome or amazing. It is also used when you are surprised or shocked about something.
Friend just told you they won the lotto? 대박!
Found out you got the present you wanted for your birthday? 대박!
Just found out an amazing fact about an interesting animal? 대박!
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Although this was used way more frequently several years ago, it is still used quite often by lots of people. No one is quite sure where the origin of this slang word came from, but there are some theories.
For one, a definition of daebak in the Korean dictionary on Naver yields a definition of a big boat in the sea. The hanja for this word is ‘大舶’ which literally means big boat. In the past, big cargo ships would visit ports, they would get access to rare items and have chances to sell them. This relates to something as a big win and having some good fortune which is right in line with what the slang for this word means.
Another theory for the origin of this slang comes from the past when people would play card games. If you played your cards well, and won many times, you would win all the money, or basically a jackpot. This is called ‘박’ (bak). If you combine it with ‘대’ which means big, you get daebak which literally means ‘big win’.
Finally, there is a Korean story that not many people know about. It’s called Heungbu and Nolbu (흥부와 놀부) or Heungbujeon (흥부전). This is a popular kids story that most Koreans know and it was written in the late Joseon Dynasty.
The story goes like this. Heungbu and Nolbu were brothers. Heungbu was poor, while Nolbu was rich. Nolbu, a greedy and selfish person, always treated the brother terribly. When their father died, the fortune from himw as supposed to be split between Nolbu’s family and Heungbu’s family. However, Nolbu tricked Heungbu’s family and kept the fortune all to himself.
Heungbu had a very caring heart, and one day Heungbu saw a swallow in a tree unaware of a snake coming up the tree to devour him for a meal. The swallow finally saw the snake and fell to the ground and broke its leg. Heungbu rushed over to chase the snake away and cared for the swallow’s broken leg.
As a thank you, the swallow gave Heungbu a present. It was a seed, and Heungbu planted the seed and waited for it to grow. As the plant matured, it produced gourds which in Korean mean….bak (박). Once the gourds were ready to eat, him and his family split them together, and out popped gemstones. They then sold the gemstones and the family became very wealthy. So again, you they got a big (대) bak (win/gourds).
To hear the end of this story, check out the video below (turn on cc for English subtitles).