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[Opinion] “Zzang” and “Chi”

Posted February. 05, 2004 23:42,   


I know a college alumnus who had very contrasting talents. He can memorize thousands of phone numbers, but his sense of direction sucks. Everybody is astonished by his amazing memory. He can even memorize the boarding house’s phone number that he used to live in during his high school years, besides free service phone numbers. However, in finding directions, he is an absolute toddler. When he was working as a resident reporter aboard, he once was lost for an hour around the highway on which he commutes everyday, failing to find the right exit leading to his home.

The “Zzang” syndrome is now hitting South Korea. There are various “zzang” syndromes from supporting and worshipping a specific person like “Rohzzang,” “Songzzang”, “Ahnzzang”, and “Hyorizzang” to referring physical and humanistic attractions such as “facezzang”, “bodyzzang”, and “heartzzang”, to special talents like “fightingzzang”, “dancingzzang”, “speakingzzang” and even to indicating a burglar wanted by police, “burglarzzang”, and “politicianzzang”, who won public nomination with articulate words and gorgeous looking. It is known that “zzang” originated from a Japanese pet name “zzang”(ちゃん) that the Japanese attach to at the end of their name. However, the more convincing theory for the term comes from Korean title “jang” (長) which means the head of a group.

The opposite term for “zzang” is “chi” (means stupidity or lacking something). We can find “musicchi” (people of tone-deafness), “bodychi” (people lacking rhythmic bodily movement), and “machinechi” (people who can’t catch up with technological development). Except “musicchi”, the rest of them are grammatically incorrect and not found in the dictionary. They are all made through analogy, and “chi” somewhat even sounds like a suffix. “Chi” also has been used to underestimate people like “eechi” (this man), “jeochi” (that man), and “jangsachi” (a peddler) being attached to a word. “Pyeongchi” was used in the Chosun Dynasty to refer people of Pyeongan province, who couldn’t go into the politics although they were quite capable.

People who are called “zzang” in a field can become a “chi” in another field. It is a blink of eye for a “zzang” to become a “chi” and vice versa. Along with the interpretation that “zzang” means the best, a different and very noticeable interpretation is circulated in the internet, that “zzang” is an abbreviation of “zzajeung” (irritability). If the worship to a “zzang” goes too far, it can become irritable. On the contrary, a “chi” can become a “zzang”. Recently a female talent enjoyed great popularity by commercializing her poor singing ability. I feel relieved with the fact that God never gives us two blessings and talents at the same time.

Editorial Writer Oh Myung-cheol, oscar@donga.com