Aigo, aigo!

Contributor: Chang Soon-hee

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to teach the most used Korean word to newly arriving U.S. military personnel in Korea?

Topic: cultural exchange, Cultural shock, Education, Language, People
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Aigo, aigo!

It’s a Korean word pronounced “I go.” It’s an exclamation mark probably most often used Korean. It roughly equals in English with Alas, Oh, Dear me! Oh my! Good heavens! Ouch! etc. The interjection is frequently uttered when one is very sad or unhappy, painful or indignant about something. The word is employed also when one is surprised, astonished or very joyful or even grateful. But it is usually not said when one is lonely.

When you attend a funeral service in the villages and trying to kneel down onto floor to make deep bows to the remain, you’d hear in a sad tone uttered by the bereaved family members standing by vocalizing “Aigo, aigo…” They keep showing their sadness until a visitor finishes one’s worship.  And the louder the sad uttering, the visitors consider that the survivors are highly dutiful. The surviving family members keep pronouncing aigo, aigo with every visitor for three days so that their voice becomes hoarse. The people in the cities, however, skip the agio nowadays.

In the daily life in the city or country side, Koreans habitually utter the word, for example; when one loses money, “Aigo, it’s a big problem.” When his friend’s child got a sick, “Aigo, what a pity thing to happen.” When surprised, “Aigo, I’m surprised.” When you meet with an old friend, “Aigo, glad to see you again.”  They also say; “Aigo, I’m going to die” when he or she is happy, unhappy, very tired, or overly joyful.

Nowadays, young Koreans are in general not poor anymore, so they utter aigo more often on happy occasions than sad ones.

Now you know the most important Korean word. Then say “I go, this kimchi is so hot.” Or “I go! You are beautiful,” when you are introduced to a Korean woman. But you wouldn’t say that if you felt she isn’t really pretty, because she might take it invert.

By Chang Soon-hee, a grandmother who used live in Pyongtaek and Seoul when her husband worked at K-6/Camp Humphreys and U.S. Army Yongsan Garrison for 20 years.

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