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Korean Dictionary Reverts to Homophobic State

The 1999 Edition of Standard Korean Unabridged Dictionary, published by NIKL
Image source: Emily Singh

In November 2012, the Standard Korean Unabridged Dictionary, published by the National Institute of Korean Language(NIKL), re-defined five words:

  • 사랑 (love)
  • 애정 (love)
  • 연애 (dating, courtship)
  • 연인 (meaning ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ without referring to specific gender)
  • 애인 (meaning ‘lover’ without referring to specific gender)

All five words were changed to gender-neutral definitions. For instance, ‘love’ was re-defined from a feeling of attraction towards a member of the opposite sex to a feeling of attraction between two people. Likewise, lover was redefined as two people who are attracted to each other, as opposed to a female and male person who are attracted to each other.

Many members of the LGBT community rejoiced at this small change, which would allow them to talk about themselves and their feelings free from heterosexuality-based words.

However, barely a year later, in January 2014, Christian advocacy groups (technically, Protestant) lobbied into reverting these newly defined words to their original state. Such religious advocacy groups have been backing anti-LGBT movements in many different forms – When dramas with LGBT characters are televised, they place ads on the first page of every major daily which read ‘These Heretic Dramas Will Turn Our Children Gay’ or ‘Our Country Is Headed For Hell’ (through which I’ve realised just how much money advertising makes). When members of the National Assembly try to pass an Anti-Discrimination Law, they campaign to exclude the clause ‘equal rights regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, origin, sexuality, and sexual preference’ to exclude sexuality and sexual preference. The truth is, there are so many Christians in Korea that their power cannot be ignored. Not to mention the fact that most leaders in politics and business are Christian, or pretend to be, in order to gain voter confidence or B2B customers.

On Yonhap’s article covering this change published March 31st, many comments were made, by both LGBT and non-LGBT people:

아니 동성애을 떠나서 애완동물 사랑 자식사랑 부모사랑 국가에 대한 사랑 이런건 이제 무시하는건가 by spel****
What? Regardless of homosexuality, what about love for my pets, love for my children, love for my parents, or love for my country? Are they ignoring these?

난 나의 어머니뿐만 아니라 아버지도 사랑한다  by dohy****
I don’t only love my mother, but also my father

사랑은 정의할 수 없는게 사랑인데… by byun****
Love is love because it can’t be defined…

남녀간의 사랑보다 더 중요한 의미는 부모자식간의 사랑 같은데.. by sina****
I think the more important meaning is the love between parents and their children, not between men and women…

An official at the NIKL stated via Yonhap that these changes were enacted in order to take into account the ‘conventional sense’ of these words, following up on “complaints that have been placed from various sources”.

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