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.

Part Two


~ by Joshing on April 26, 2010.

14 Responses to “What Is Aegyo And How Can We Kill It? Part One”

  1. I usually teach my students the word “baby talk”

  2. […] 5-part series then, rooted in Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class:  see here for Part 1, and don’t miss Kelly in Korea’s insights […]

  3. […] then, you imagine what I thought of three members’ most recent song in which they pour on the aegyo (애교), basically looking and behaving like 12 year-old girls. Like I said in the comments to a […]

  4. I actually know a few girls (why yes, all of them aged 20 and ABOVE) who deliberately affect squeaky voices and act like schoolgirl anime characters to ‘be cute’. I’m positively mystified how some men actually buy it and find those girls sexy / moe/ aegyo when they’re just squealing like pigs getting slaughtered :p

    • W O R D

    • I dont know if you are a guy, but if you are and you like the manly western women then your sexuality is in question. Many men still like feminine women. The more feminine, the better. Of course, I do not know, maybe the girls you know are strange and go way too too far… I also know, of course, that there are indeed still sweet, ladylike, feminine women in the USA. I would argue that women naturally tend to all around like cuteness due to evolutionary reasons. Think 200k years of human history, women raising babies, babies are cute, evolution decides it is a good idea for women to like cute things etc…. Unless you live in a society that obsessively brain washes the cuteness out of the women like in the USA and then even worse spreads the brain washing around the world through its movies…., but I think that is an anomaly and you can still go to many other countries and still see women that have a much more feminine cute way about them– with Japan probably being the cute capital of the world. Japanese culture is like a shining city on a hill resisting the evil forces that seek to destroy women’s natural behavior. Thank you Japan and Korea for helping save humanity. Ladies, we love your cat ear hats! Dont stop wearing them please!

  5. very useful definition, thanks!


  6. Aegyo is a pure expression of femininity and sweetness.

  7. So…. its like the growing hatred of ‘Moe’, theres also a growing hatred of ‘aegyo’?

  8. […] you normally on life here. I will get that post out for you guys eventually, but until then– read this to at least prep […]

  9. […] Now, this seems to be a topic that is extensively covered in the expat community. The Joshing Gnome writing a long series of posts titled What is Aegyo and How Can We Kill it? […]

  10. […] style of pop-icons. Namely, cutesy. (For an extended critique of pop-culture in Korea and women, check here). There are tons of “cute” CG and artwork. Consider even the way she sings, the very first […]

  11. Your definition of aegyo (and Turnbull’s for that matter) could not be more wrong. I find it hard to believe that you actually live in S. Korea.

  12. […] dominanti e maturi serve a mantenere lo stato di cose attuale. L’uso smodato dell’ aegyo, della timidezza recitata e dell’ innocenza non fanno altro che restituire un’ immagine […]

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