What Is Aegyo And How Can We Kill It? Part One
One could reasonably ask the question ‘Why do I want to kill every distinctly Korean concept?’ Fair question.
Anyway, I got to thinking about aegyo (애교) after reading the definition given by James Turnbull:
[a] collection of childish speaking styles, gestures, and mannerisms
James’ intention here is clearly not to give a rigorous definition, but the very act of trying to break down what it means set my gears in motion.
Childish? I hadn’t thought to apply the word ‘childish’ to the aegyo phenomenon, but obviously that’s my bad. But rather than pick apart someone else’s off-the-cuff definition of aegyo, it’s only fair that I attempt my own ill-fated definition, so here goes:
Aegyo (애교): affected sweetness
I’ll unpack it a bit for you. Aegyo is affected, in that it describes conscious performance on the part of the person displaying aegyo. One does not normally use the term to describe innate features. A voice does not contain aegyo simply because it sounds like that of a child. It’s all about what one does with the voice that defines the presence or absence of aegyo. I choose the word ‘sweetness’ because all of the other choices lack some thing or another. ‘Charm’ is an obvious possibility, but it is too general. ‘Affected charm’ would define a very broad category of which aegyo is but a small subset. Korean-English dictionaries often use the word ‘winsome’, but frankly I doubt many of us have a really clear mental image of what winsomeness entails. Other words used in dictionaries (lovely, alluring, courtesy, etc.) all fail to capture what aegyo is all about. ‘Coquettishness’ probably comes closest in sense, but carries a connotation of flirting which is absent from aegyo. The concept of aegyo is independent from the concept of flirting, although the two can and do overlap on occasion. I also considered and rejected ‘affected weakness’, as although I think this is more accurate than ‘affected sweetness’, the popular understanding of the word ‘weakness’ would overshadow what I’m getting at.
I’ll leave you with that definition of aegyo taking root in your mind and return tomorrow with a discussion of the manifestations of aegyo. After that I’ll take a look at two different ways of conceptualizing what aegyo is, and finally I’ll explain why we may want to kill aegyo and how to go about doing so.