Schoolteacher Kwon Hee-rin has made it her task to collect and identify the origin of slang commonly used among children. A teacher of Korean language and literature at Jangchung High School in Seoul, she has given herself the challenging mission in the hope that would make her pupils think twice before using offensive language and voluntarily improve their speech.
"There are so many words that you can't possibly use once you find out their origin. It's really problematic that people don't know the origin of slang," says the 30-year old.
Kwon recently published a book on the origin and meaning of 67 vulgarisms.
"I went to a girls' middle school, a girls' high school and a women's university, and was placed in a boys' high school as a teacher," she says. "I was shocked at the extent to which the kids swear and use slang even in class. I started by just telling them off, but then I thought, what's my reason for doing that? And I didn't really know, so I started looking for answers that would allow me to explain what these words mean rather than simply telling them not to use them."
She reserved five minutes of each class to teach children the origin of swearwords. She says the kids were often quite shocked when they discovered what the words they used really meant.
"I asked them to give me written feedback, and many said they'll try and do better. After just one semester, I heard a lot fewer swearwords from my students."
Kwon confessed that it was sometimes difficult to track the exact meaning of slang terms because their origins can be obscure. "I hoped that adults would also learn something. That's what motivated me to write this book."
Kwon blends personal anecdotes and thoughts on each word with humor and skill. She also offers alternative to swearwords she considers offensive.
She defines slang and swearwords as "B-list" language but does not believe they should all be eradicated. "Little bits of slang and swearwords help relieve stress and add spark to insipid conversations," she admits. "I don't think slang should be avoided, but you'd better know what you're really saying, and when you do you'll use less of it."