A new language? Posted : 2018-03-13 15:22Updated : 2018-03-14 13:15
By Martin Limon
Posted : 2018-03-13 15:22
As the U.S. military relocates out of Yongsan Garrison, Yongsan Legacy aims to archive the living memories of those who served, worked and lived there. This is one of them.
When I first arrived on Yongsan Compound in June 1968, I had to learn a new language. Not proper Korean, which was beyond my youthful ambitions, but rather a new dialect of GI slang: a dialect one part Korean, one part English and a generous helping of humor.
One of the first words I learned was “moolah,” I don’t know. Exceedingly useful when you’re a barely educated teenager thrust into a 5,000-year-old culture. But just saying “I don’t know” wasn’t enough for most of us. We added our own spin. When we were completely befuddled we might throw up our hands and say “Moolah the hell out of me.”
Another word quickly learned was “mianhamnida,” sorry. When faced with an insoluble problem, a GI might say “Sounds like a mianham situation.”
Yoboseiyo, the Korean telephone greeting, was mangled into “Yobo-skeeter,” reminding one GI of the omnipresent mosquitoes in his home state of Georgia.
GIs would sometimes combine the new with the familiar. For example, the Korean greeting “Anyonghasaeyo?” became “Anyonghashi-motor pool.”
“Bbali bbali,” hurry, was almost universally known amongst GIs, as was “yogi,” here, and “chogi,” there. When riding in the back of a “kimchi cab” just pointing and yelling “yogi” was usually enough to convince the driver to stop.
Many GIs never actually learned the Korean word for beer since there were only two brands available at that time, OB or Crown. Naming them, along with forking out 90 won, earned you a frothing brown bottle of suds.
The made-up English word “slicky” was used often. It comes from the desperate situation some Koreans faced during the war, when boys would sneak onto military encampments, risking their lives, to steal precious items such as food, medicine or heating fuel, in a desperate attempt to keep their families alive.
Perplexed GI guards would often comment, “Those boys are slick.” Thus the noun “slicky boys” and the verb “slicky” meaning “to steal.” And possibly my favorite tongue-in-cheek comment of all time: “You slicky my ping-pong heart.”
Another comment one often heard was “same same,” which makes sense because the mere repetition of the word indicates the idea the person is trying to convey. But the words often came out sounding like “sae-muh sae-muh.”
This developed into a phrase used even today: “Same old, same old.” Which is a corruption, I believe, of Eighth U.S. Army GI slang.
It might not be much but these words and phrases still stand as Yongsan Compound’s contribution to the wider world of linguistics.
Martin Limon is a full-time writer who retired from the army with 20 years of military service, 10 of which he spent in Korea. One of his 12 novels is titled “Slicky Boys.” Another, “Ping-pong Heart.”