Namdaemun or Sungnyemun?
So as you may know, Korea’s National Treasure No. 1, Seoul’s Great South Gate (Namdaemun) was torched by a deranged malcontent this week. It is a sad and unfortunate event, as the gate is a beautiful living part of the city’s history.
While the landmark is widely known as Namdaemun (남대문), its official name is Sungnyemun (숭례문). I, like most foreigners in Korea I am quite sure, did not know this name until Tuesday afternoon. That is because as soon as Namdaemun burned down, the name Namdaemun seemed to have become purged from memory. Sungnyemun is the only name being used in the news these days. When they interview eyewitnesses and gate-lovers, their every utterance of the word ‘Namdaemun’ is converted to ‘Sungnyemun’ in the closed captioning.
I mention this only because I find it so incredibly annoying. I have long harbored a hatred of Korean television’s penchant for changing what people actually say on the news into antiseptic standard Korean, blanching out regional accents and ‘non-standard’ uses and ‘incorrect’ borrowed words. It’s so officious.
This whole name debacle is roughly the equivalent of the Statue of Liberty being blown up and the media obstinately choosing to refer to it only by its original name, ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’. ‘Let me just stop you for a moment, sir. Don’t you mean you made a positive ID of the man who blew up “Liberty Enlightening the World“?’
Sungnyemun may well be the official name of this monument, but the name that it’s known and loved by is Namdaemun. The Korean media’s obsessive need to one-up the common man with its pseudo-intellectual real-name-dropping is really a kind of institutionalized form of one of the moderately well-educated’s most annoying conceits, the urge to pointlessly correct that which is not wrong. This is the same principle we see in action when one gives unsolicited, usually half-right advice on the use of commas, semicolons, and assorted grammatical rules. It’s the kind of erudition that belies ignorance and it makes me sick.
That’s why the next person who tries to tell me that Namdaemun is actually Sungnyemun is going to earn my eternal contempt for his or her venal striving.